Voting with their feet
|Title:||Voting with their feet|
Voting with their feetLife, liberty and the pursuit of New Hampshire
by Brooks Halliday 10/15/03
They self-identify in various ways classical liberal, paleoconservative, constitutionalist, voluntarist, anarcho-capitalist. But the members of the Free State Project are united by one common goal: attaining "liberty in their lifetime."
For most members of the project, liberty bears a close resemblance to the political platform of the Libertarian Party, though the groups are not affiliated. Elimination of all income taxes, repeal of most gun-control laws, repeal of most drug prohibition laws, unrestricted free trade and large-scale privatization are just a few of the measures supported by the average member.
The project is not a political party but a nonprofit organization with a single purpose: to live in a state in which the role of government does not exceed the function of defending citizens' life, liberty and property.
The idea was first proposed two years ago by Jason Sorens in an online article about the shortcomings of the Libertarian Party. Since Sorens's first appeal, the movement has become a corporation with more than 4,700 members.
Each has signed a statement pledging a "solemn intent to move to the state of New Hampshire" after which members will "exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of life, liberty and property." The movement also has several thousand "friends" who support the cause but will not move to New Hampshire.
Sorens, a lecturer in Yale's political science department, currently serves as the chairman of the project's board of directors.
According to a recent member survey, roughly 40 percent of participants are between the ages of 18 and 34. Half of all members hold bachelor's degrees, and almost a fifth have done postgraduate work. Forty-four percent of signatories earn $60,000 or more per year, which is a major selling point when pitching the idea to New Hampshire residents.
James Maynard, a New Hampshire Libertarian Party member and candidate, explained how the group's education and income level would benefit the state. "[The project] is working to create a situation where we can bring a lot of small businesses and new charitable organizations ... to help New Hampshire and help our community," he said.
The Free State Project selected its target state after a groupwide vote earlier this month. The 10 states on the ballot Alaska, North and South Dakota, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming were selected primarily because of their sparse populations, each less than 1.4 million people, thereby allowing a voting bloc of 20,000 to have an impact at the polls.
New Hampshire, with its small state government, low tax burden and state motto "Live Free or Die," beat out the competition with 55 percent of the vote. Wyoming was the first runner-up.
Since announcing the winner of the vote, the organization has lost 700 members who supported other states, but Sorens said that was nothing to worry about in a fledgling organization that already boasts 5,000 members.
According to project Vice President Elizabeth McKinstry, members living in New Hampshire were the most active in campaigning for their home state before the vote. Among other reasons, New Hampshire members recognized that the state's political climate was conducive to the project's mission.
Currently, members of the Libertarian Party hold 29 public offices in New Hampshire, more per capita than in any other state, according to the New Hampshire Libertarian Party.
The Free State Project has the backing of many local Libertarian parties, but the national party has been more reticent to offer support. McKinstry characterized its response as "chilly at best," which, she added, is "fine with us. We exist because of their lack of success."
Reaction from Granite State elected officials has been generally positive. "New Hampshire has always welcomed individuals looking to relocate to our great state," Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-N.H.) told The Hill. "We have a long history of welcoming and accepting those with diverse views, and the Free State project obviously recognized that in their state selection process."
After meeting with several participants in the project, Gov. Craig Benson (R) has signed on as a friend of the movement. "Since Colonial times, people have come to New Hampshire seeking individual liberty and limited government," he said. "The leaders of the Free State Project have told me they are small business owners and entrepreneurs who believe in low taxes and limited government. As with all new citizens, I welcome them."
An Oct. 2 editorial in the Manchester Union Leader echoed that sentiment. "Were the Free State Project to succeed in transplanting 20,000 people into the state, its main achievement would be an influx of thousands of individuals who think more or less like most other Granite Staters think. Far from being worrisome, this is welcome."
But the Concord Monitor editorialized Oct. 6: "Like the true believers who flocked round millennialists, Utopians and other crackpots in the 1830s and 1840s, the Libertarians worship a false god."
The paper was quickly deluged with letters from supporters of the migration. Keith Murphy of Baltimore wrote, "This editorial was an excellent example of what happens when a million-dollar press is operated by a group of five-cent minds. Not to worry, editors. Libertarians believe in the freedom of the press. Of course, we also believe in the free market, and when I arrive in New Hampshire in six months, I will choose to support your competitor to the south."
Though not expressly stated in the membership guidelines, the group likely will abort its mission if it does not reach 20,000 members by 2006, party officials say. If the project does reach its goal, each member will have up to five years to make the move.
The project acknowledges that some signatories may back out of the agreement come moving day, but the leaders do not fear this will torpedo their efforts. Explained McKinstry: "There are a lot of people who will move but haven't signed up because they're not 'joiners.' We expect the two groups will even out."
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