Live Free or Fly
|Title:||Live Free or Fly|
|Publication:||Baltimore City Paper|
Live Free or Fly
Marylanders Among the Effort Aiming to Get 20,000 Libertarians to Move to New Hampshireby Brennen Jensen 10/15/03
Your Own Private New Hampshire:
Free State Project Mid-atlantic coordinator Keith Murphy says that most of
those signing up to move are "small 'l' libertarians."
Maryland is known as the Free State, a moniker earned back in the 1920s when many in our state protested the federally mandated prohibition of alcohol. Despite the carping from those who thought alcohol control was a state issue, Maryland went dry just like everywhere else. Though Prohibition was ultimately repealed, throughout the 20th century government at all levels has made deeper inroads into our personal lives and pocketbooks.
Some citizens now say enough is enough. Indeed, some folks from around the country are so fed up with what they consider excessive taxation, regulation, and liberty-restricting legislation that they are planning to move en masse to New Hampshire. A dramatic influx of like-minded, politically active people, they figure, could effectively work within the electoral process of this relatively unpopulated state to downsize government's size and authority, at least at the state level.
The initiative is called the Free State Project. It was first conceived by twentysomething Yale University political science doctoral graduate Jason Sorens in 2000, and it has been borne along by the Internet ever since (www.freestateproject.org). The project asks participants to sign a "statement of intent" to move to the designated state. Once unpacked in their new locale, signers further pledge to "exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of individuals' rights to life, liberty, and property." The goal is to have 20,000 people signed up by 2006, at which time folks would have five years to complete the move. About 5,000 people signed up as of this summer, and, participants have selected New Hampshire as the state to which to relocate. New Hampshire beat nine other states up for consideration, including runners-up Wyoming and Delaware. Among the thousands pledging to go to the Granite State are some 101 Marylanders, nine of them from Baltimore.
"Maryland used to be the Free State--now it's the Mommy State," says Mount Washington's Keith Murphy, the project's Mid-Atlantic coordinator. "We want people to run their own lives instead of being told how to run them."
Murphy, a 28-year-old legislative researcher and graduate student studying urban planning at University of Maryland, says the project has 120 members in the region (which includes Washington, Maryland, and Delaware). The Free State Project is not formally connected to or endorsed by any political party, but its philosophy and goals mesh most closely with those of the Libertarian Party. While many Free Staters are members of the Libertarian Party, Murphy says there are Democrats, Republicans, and Green Party affiliates on board as well. (Murphy collectively refers to Free Staters as "small 'l' libertarians," as opposed to "big 'L' libertarians," who are formal member of the political party.)
"Libertarianism is not just a party--it's a philosophy," he says. "The basic premise is that we want to be left alone. If you think that people should be able to do whatever they please as long as they're not hurting anybody else--if you can agree with that statement--then you're a libertarian, regardless of party."
The project's logo incorporates the image of a porcupine, which is a nod to the Colonial era's "Don't Tread on Me" snake flag.
While the Free State Project's Web site notes that it is not a "lockstep" movement requiring participants to agree on a litany of issues, Free Staters are generally against gun control and for the decriminalization of drugs. They are pro-choice and pro-school choice. They are opposed to a wide swath of government limitations on personal freedom, which means they are in favor of everything from legalizing prostitution to ending cigarette smoking bans, lowering the drinking age, and doing away with motorcycle-helmet and seat-belt laws.
Though Free Staters come from both ends of the political spectrum, Murphy says, they do have some demographic common ground. Most participants are young (under 40), well-educated (bachelor's degree or above), and financially stable ($40,000-plus a year in income).
Towson resident Adam Schadt, a 24-year-old contract background investigator for the federal government who heard about project from a friend six months ago, says he thought long and hard before he signed the "solemn intent" to relocate.
"It's a huge commitment to move up to another area of the country," he says. "But I'm willing make the sacrifice for the benefits I think we'll get out of it."
Schadt sites the decriminalization of drugs as an issue he and many other local Free Staters support. "The war on drugs is not working," he says.
"I'm gay, and another thing I hope to achieve in going up there is to get rid of any restrictions on gay marriage," Schadt adds.
The Libertarian Party is starting to achieve greater recognition in Maryland. In the 2002 gubernatorial election, the Libertarian Party overcame Maryland's harsh ballot-access laws, which require third parties to engage in extensive petition drives to achieve party recognition and to place candidates on the ballot, and managed to get its candidates listed on the statewide ballot. While the Libertarian candidates came in a very distant third in the election (garnering less than 1 percent of the vote), the Libertarian Party was the first third party to place candidates on the statewide ballot in nearly 40 years.
And getting on the ballot should become easier in future elections. This summer the Maryland Court of Appeals, responding to a suit brought by the Maryland Green Party, struck down certain aspects of the state's ballot-access laws, easing the way for third-party participation in future state elections. By sending would-be Libertarian activists out of the state, Murphy acknowledges that the Free State Project could--at least initially--weaken Libertarian Party efforts in Maryland.
"I want the Libertarian Party to succeed in Maryland," he says. "It's just that the party might succeed better here by succeeding somewhere else first. If we go to New Hampshire and it works, then Maryland has somewhere to look."
The Libertarians' 2002 candidate for governor, Anne Arundel County businessman Spear Lancaster, endorses the Free State Project and has signed on as a participant. "Not that I'm going to stay up there in the winter," Lancaster says of the potential nothward move. "But I do plan to get an apartment or a little condo up there if they go through with it."
Lorenzo Gaztanaga, Lancaster's running mate and a private security officer from Cedonia, also backs the project, but he doesn't plan to participate.
"I wish them all the best," he says. "But I, for one, need to keep working in Maryland with the same goals in mind."
Murphy says New Hampshire, where the state slogan is "Live Free or Die," is an excellent choice for the experiment, as he feels its citizens already have a libertarian streak. The state has no sales tax or personal income tax, for example, affording New Hampshirites one of the lowest tax burdens in the country. Even though its just over 1.3 million population is less than a quarter of Maryland's, New Hampshire has the largest legislative body in the country (424 members, as compared to Maryland's 188). Free Staters figure this will make it easier to field candidates.
"This isn't about forcing the libertarian vision on anybody," Murphy cautions. "It's about just getting people to talk about issues."
And what do New Hampshirites feel about the potential arrival of some 20,000 libertarian refugees to the place they call home? Murphy, who says he reads four New Hampshire newspapers a day, feels the response from up north has been "overwhelmingly positive."
Daniel Szczesny, associate publisher of Manchester, N.H.'s alternative weekly, the Hippo Press, is neither surprised nor concerned about the Free Staters' possible arrival. "Why wouldn't they want to come here?" he says. "Politics are a hobby [in New Hampshire]--a way of life--and there's more than enough room for them up here."
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