For Libertarians, a warm welcome
|Title:||For Libertarians, a warm welcome|
For Libertarians, a warm welcome
by Lisa Wangsness Monitor staff 11/02/03
Among the biggest cheerleaders of the Free State Project: Republican Gov. Craig Benson.
MANCHESTER Yes, yes, Craig Benson is a Republican. But the governor shrugged off partisan differences at yesterday's Libertarian Party state convention, where he found himself in the remarkable position of keynote speaker at a rival party's annual meeting.
"The only person who agrees with me is me," he told reporters with a grin.
In his speech, Benson welcomed visiting members of the Free State Project, a group of liberty-minded people from around the country who are planning a mass migration to New Hampshire.
"We'd love to have you," he told the few dozen members of the Free State Project in attendance. "You're active, you want to make the state or the towns and cities you hope to live in a better place, and that is the core value of New Hampshire."
The Libertarians, native and non-, have clearly taken a shine to Benson. John Babiarz, the party chairman, gave an adoring introduction to the man who beat him in last year's gubernatorial election by 55 percent.
"This here is a stand-up guy," he said. "A guy with a spine. . . . He has changed the culture from a culture of morass to a culture of can-do."
While a handful of Libertarians serve on local boards, the state party has never managed to attract more than a few percentage points in statewide races. They hope the Free Staters will help change that one day, of course. But for the moment, they seemed content with Benson even Babiarz said later he could think of nothing he would do differently than the governor had.
The audience of about 70 applauded warmly when Benson described his administration's efforts to pay for government initiatives, such as laptop computers in schools, with private donations instead of tax dollars. They cheered when he touted his Taxpayers Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment that would put strict limits on government spending. And they shouted their approval when he talked up his proposal to rewrite the rules governing school standards.
"What's the magic about 180 days in school?" he said. "Why is six hours a day the requirement? Why do we make somebody like my daughter's friend, who is trying out for the Olympics, also have to take gym class to graduate from high school?"
The crowd laughed heartily.
It was partly because of the Republican governor's invitation to "come on up" that the Free Staters chose New Hampshire over other small states as their destination last month. Free State Project President Kelton Baker, who flew in from California for the occasion, presented Benson with a toy porcupine the group's mascot carrying a state flag.
"This is an incredible place, and we're happy to already have a governor that supports us," Baker said.
"It's nice and soft," said Benson, petting the stuffed animal.
"Don't pat it the wrong way!" someone called out, to laughter.
The state Republican Party's highest elected official's welcome to the Free Staters will be broadcast around the world. Among the media covering yesterday's event were radio crews from the BBC and a reporter from the Telegraph of London. They worked in the story while in town for the consecration of Anglican Church's first openly gay bishop, the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, which will be held in Durham today.
In an interview with Benson after the speech, one British reporter noted that some Free Staters hope to start a political revolution. Benson raised his eyebrows.
"I think New Hampshire should be open to everybody," he said. ". . . If we start to say to people 'What are your values?' and before you come to the state of New Hampshire we want you to pass a quiz, then by definition we close the diversity of New Hampshire down."
Another Brit pointed out that many Libertarians support repealing laws against drugs and prostitution.
Benson said those weren't the issues that mattered most to Libertarians.
"What they're standing for is a smaller government, and one that works effectively," he said. "They don't want government on their backs whether they're in business or in their personal lives. And I say let's minimize it as much as possible. But I'm not for legalizing drugs or prostitution."
Jayne Millerick, the chairwoman of the Republican State Committee, said Benson's appearance was a great way to persuade some Libertarians to support Republicans who share their views on those core issues.
In fact, many of the Free Staters aren't actually Libertarians, according to the group's founder, Jason Sorens. In an e-mail, he said about 40 to 50 percent of Free Staters call themselves Libertarians; the rest are mostly independents and Republicans. (Amanda Phillips, the group's treasurer, said there are also a few Greens, Democrats and anarchists.)
Asked if the Republican Party might invite a Libertarian to speak at its convention, though, Millerick paused a moment.
"That's a good question," she said slowly. "We have a very long history of actually highlighting members of our own party at our conventions. Because we have so many elected officials right now, we will probably continue to highlight them."
The Free Staters aren't committed to relocating to New Hampshire until membership reaches 20,000. That could take a few years; just 5,000 people have joined so far. But a number of them are already on the move.
Robert Gibson, an entrepreneur from Palm Beach, Fla., answered a cell phone call from his New Hampshire Realtor after he finished his lunch yesterday. He arranged a meeting that afternoon to inspect properties at the Manchester Airport, where he plans to expand Corbadex, his software development corporation.
"I'm here prepared to sign a lease," he said. "We'll start with a small facility to get our feet wet; we expect to expand quickly."
He said he never would have considered growing his business in New Hampshire had the Free Staters not named it their destination state. Once he began looking into the opportunities and business climate here, he said he found a natural match. He will follow his business when the Free Staters hit their 20,000 goal, he said.
A Libertarian, Gibson said he is mostly interested in removing government regulations that hamper business decisions.
"Citizens are not children," he said.
Naturally, local Libertarians are over the moon about the Free Staters' plans. But some entrepreneurial Granite Staters see business opportunities as well.
Ofe Polack, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker, commandeered a booth in the exhibition room at yesterday's convention.
"Insurance people, schools, you name it anybody that serves people should be interested" in the Free Staters' arrival, she said. "Twenty thousand people is a lot of people."
A few yards down, Ed Naile was running a table for the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers. He said his group would show the Free Staters how to become active in local governments. Among his offerings were information about the state Right-to-Know law, compilations of documents relating to local disputes and a binder labeled "Bogus Legal Advice, 1995-2003," which contained legal letters from school districts and towns he found especially devious.
Naile said the potential for even a few hundred Free Staters to influence local politics should not be underestimated.
"There are only five people on a school board," he said.
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