Libertarians call Granite State home
|Title:||Libertarians call Granite State home|
Libertarians call Granite State home
New Hampshire chosen as site for 20,000-person project
by Daniel Barrick Monitor staff 10/02/03
NEW YORK - For the past two years, the members of the Free State Project were like the Israelites of the Old Testament - a people united by a common belief, in search of a homeland.
Yesterday, the project's leaders announced that they have finally seen the promised land: New Hampshire.
The Free Staters, a group of libertarians who want to apply their ideas of small government, low taxes and unfettered civil liberties on a wider scale, have decided to make the Granite State their laboratory. The project's leaders said they can't wait to migrate to New Hampshire, a place they believe is already well on its way to becoming a libertarian paradise.
"New Hampshire is now the luckiest state in the history of the United States," said Tim Condon, a member of the project's board of directors. "They're about to get an influx of hard-working, dedicated individuals. . . . We come as good citizens to work with you to make New Hampshire an even greater place of freedom than it already is."
It will be a slow migration. Since its founding two years ago, the project's leaders have recruited only a quarter of the 20,000 members they're aiming for. And they have ruled out the option of forming a political party, adopting communal living or requiring dues from their members. But the Free Staters say naming a destination state, after months of deliberation, represents a major step forward. Whether their future neighbors are ready to accept them, however, is another question.
"This is a group that doesn't represent this state's values," said Pam Walsh, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party who questioned the group's professed hopes to eliminate public education and decriminalize drugs.
What happens next is still unclear. Once membership reaches 20,000 (which could happen within two or three years, one board member said) members must move to New Hampshire within five years. Once here, they hope to run for elected office and add a more Libertarian flavor to mainstream state politics. Several Free State advocates said they already planned to move up in the next few months. Others said it would take longer to untangle themselves from the net of authoritarianism (and a regular income) back home.
"I have to see how the job market is," said Jason Sorens, the project's founder and a political science lecturer at Yale.
After yesterday's announcement, made in a hotel a few blocks from Times Square, several Free Staters whooped it up in the hotel bar. Two enthusiastically pro-New Hampshire members, Keith Murphy and Francis White, split a bottle of champagne and began plotting their moves north. Dressed in tailored blue suits, the two men lingered for hours, savoring the first day in what one member called a second American Revolution.
"This is the next logical step in efforts toward freedom," White, an artist from upstate New York, said. "It might actually be the last resort."
The announcement also ignited jubilation back in New Hampshire, where the state Libertarian Party threw an impromptu party at the Barley House pub in Concord.
But the day of celebration was not without a few hitches. A British newspaper published a story that morning, leaking New Hampshire's victory before the official announcement. That, in turn, set off a flurry of phone calls from reporters eager for more of the story.
Johannes Wiebus, a German filmmaker working on a documentary about the project, sees in it distinctly American themes: the "pioneer" spirit and a deep suspicion of authority. He plans to spend the next year chronicling the lives of several project members as they migrate to New Hampshire. Under the glow of Wiebus's spotlights yesterday, several Free Staters described the motivation behind their visions of liberty in the White Mountains.
"These are people who are convinced to follow their dream and give up their life to try something completely new," said Wiebus. "It's the passion of people who are willing to change."
If the Free State Project's goals of smaller government and lower taxes remind you of Gov. Craig Benson's platform, you're onto something. The governor met with several of the group's members last June during a week-long tour of the state. Many members yesterday cited Benson's warm welcome, in which he invited the Free Staters to "come on up," as a deciding factor in New Hampshire's victory.
"He's one of us," said Tony Stelik, a toolmaker from Connecticut who plans to move with his wife to New Hampshire and open a gun smithy. "He's the best kind of politician - a self-made politician."
In a statement yesterday, Benson offered an enthusiastic greeting to the Free Staters.
"Since colonial times, people have come to New Hampshire seeking individual liberty and limited government," Benson said. "In my previous meetings with leaders of the Free State Project, they said they were small-business owners and entrepreneurs who believe in low taxes and limited government. . . . As with all new citizens, I expect they will positively contribute to New Hampshire, and I welcome them."
The project's charter calls for effecting change - including shrinking the size of government by two-thirds, repealing most gun and drug laws and doing away with public education - through electoral results. But Free State leaders, as if anticipating backlash from suspicious New Hampshire residents, were quick to dismiss talk of a "takeover."
"We want to reinforce the existing culture of liberty and help make the state's government less extensive, less intrusive and less costly," said Sorens.
Elizabeth McKinstry, the project's vice president, said more traditional forms of civic life, like volunteerism and school scholarships, would be a critical part of the movement.
"To those of you in New Hampshire, we're really excited to be a part of your volunteer networks," she said.
The project's members are a fairly well-educated, prosperous lot: More than 90 percent have at least some college experience, and 40 percent earn more than $60,000 a year. They are also overwhelmingly male and single.
Evan and Beverly Nappen of Eatontown, N.J., admitted they wished there were more families among the movement. But the couple said they were ready to move with their three preteen children to New Hampshire within two years. They spoke of the state in terms deserving of a tourism brochure.
"We just love New Hampshire," Evan Nappen said. "The attitude there is just about as opposite of New Jersey as you can find."
"It's an attitude of personal responsibility," Beverly Nappen added.
The voting process behind yesterday's result was a drawn-out, carefully researched affair. The project's leaders narrowed the choices to 10 states, graded on a list of qualifications such as small population, traditions of small government and low taxes and relaxed gun-control laws. Many members took tours of the states in contention.
For months, New Hampshire and Wyoming were pegged as front-runners. New Hampshire scored well for its small size, low crime rate, modest tax burden and citizen legislature. And, of course, there's that state motto - "Live Free or Die" - which warms the heart of every libertarian.
The final voting results were a closely guarded secret; even the project's board of directors were in the dark until Monday.
But anyone who envisions New Hampshire turning into a libertarian wonderland anytime soon should heed the words of Miriam Luce, former state liquor commissioner and one of the few libertarians to hold public office in recent years.
"I wish them well, but if they think a few thousand people are going to bring New Hampshire back from the brink of socialism, they have their work cut out for them," said Luce. "We're too far gone already."
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