Fresnans join plan for Free State
|Title:||Fresnans join plan for Free State|
Fresnans join plan for Free StateNew Hampshire holds chance for libertarian government, they say.
by John Ellis 12/28/03
For 27 of his 29 years, Varrin Swearingen has called Fresno home.
The World Airways pilot lives in a nice house near Chestnut and Nees avenues. He's a member of Northwest Church. His parents are here, as is his wife's stepmother.
His two children were born here.
Next year, however, Swearingen will take his family, leave behind a lifetime of memories and head east to New Hampshire, all for a political movement based on his libertarian beliefs.
"This is a big deal," he says. "It is a hard decision to leave home, there's no doubt about that."
Kelton Baker, 30, who recently moved from Fresno to Utah, plans to take his wife and two children and join Swearingen in New Hampshire sometime next year.
Baker came to Fresno two years ago and had planned to stay long term. Then he soured on California's political climate, which he feels is far from his libertarian roots.
Swearingen and Baker are part of an Internet-based movement known as the Free State Project. The idea: Twenty thousand "liberty-oriented people" will move to New Hampshire, where they hope to "work within the political system to reduce the size and scope of government," according to the movement's Web site.
Both men believe government has become too intrusive in areas such as business regulation, zoning and education. They and most Free State members loathe taxes. Swearingen believes taxes could be reduced to almost nothing if schools were privatized.
Free State members are big on individual responsibility. That means no gun ownership restrictions and an elimination of drug laws.
The group chose New Hampshire as the promised land by a vote. It won out over states that included Maine, Wyoming, Idaho, Delaware, Alaska and Vermont. Each of the states the group considered has a small population, which means 20,000 people have more of a chance to make a difference politically.
Once most group members are in New Hampshire, they plan to field candidates in elections and become active in schools and community groups.
Already, the state has some built-in advantages: no motorcycle helmet laws and no sales or income tax. New Hampshire is the only U.S. state without a compulsory seat-belt law. And the populace already has libertarian tendencies.
It was 18 or so months ago that Swearingen first found out about the Free State Project. He researched it, liked what he found out and signed on a year ago. He and his wife have placed a deposit on a lot in Keene, a small city in the state's southwest corner. Swearingen plans to move there in October.
"There are a lot of great things about California," Swearingen says, "but the political situation has declined and shows no sign of dramatic improvement. If we stay, we're going to be stuck with that."
Baker, in the meantime, has temporarily moved to Utah, where he is taking care of some business. He plans to look for a job in New Hampshire via the Internet. He works now about 20 hours a week as the group's interim president, mediating member disputes and working with an ad director and membership services.
"We need to get government to its most basic functions," Baker says. "We need to let people make their own decisions about how [they want to live]."
Not everybody embraces the group's pending involvement in New Hampshire politics.
Al Mascitti, a columnist for the (Wilmington, Del.) News-Journal, wrote last month he was thankful "that the thousands of libertarian-minded people who signed up for the Free State Project will see their dreams of low-government utopia die in New Hampshire instead of Delaware."
New Hampshire's largest newspaper, The Union Leader, welcomed Free State Project members to the state in an editorial, though it disagreed with some specific libertarian ideas, such as legalizing drugs and favoring abortion rights.
"We welcome people that want to protect individual liberty," says Andrew Cline, editor of the Union Leader's editorial pages. "Those are the type worth having in the state."
But the paper's editorial says the idea is unlikely to succeed. In a state that gets 10,000 new residents a year, Cline says, 20,000 is not enough to make statewide political change. The state's population is about 1.25 million.
University of Virginia government professor Larry Sabato agrees. "If they think they can take over New Hampshire with a group that small, obviously, the reality will be otherwise."
Free State members hope to have an impact beyond their numbers.
Swearingen says the group can "elect our own people or sway the existing populace." He prefers the latter.
Both Swearingen and Baker are committed, as are -- as of now -- a little more than 5,000 others.
They lament leaving California's weather behind, but not much else.
"This is not a secessionist movement, per se," Swearingen says. What it is,
he says, is an effort to "bring in people able to vote and be politically
active enough in a number to sway a single U.S. state."
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US Code Title 17,
Chapter 1, Section 107).
These media articles are maintained on a non-commercial basis by The Free State Project, a non-profit organization, for historical, educational, scholarship, and research purposes. (For information regarding "Fair Use", see US Code Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107).