Nothing to lose but Texas roots
|Title:||Nothing to lose but Texas roots|
|Publication:||Dallas Morning News|
Nothing to lose but Texas roots
For those considering NH project, freedom's not just another word
by Jim Getz 01/11/04
If you think that Texas with its individualistic, don't-fence-me-in, Remember-the-Alamo, wildcattin' heritage is the picture of liberty, then you haven't met members of the Free State Project.
Over the next several years, 5,229 of them from across the United States including at least 286 Texans have pledged to move to more libertarian New Hampshire. Once 20,000 are there, they say they hope to use their influence to create the most freedom-oriented, get-the-government-off-my-back state in the Union.
"I would say Texas is independent, very individualist, but it seems Texas has changed in the past few years," said Mark Coleman, a 35-year-old multimedia developer from Plano. "Our government has gotten way too big. You think we have no income tax, but if you look at the other taxes, it's gotten way out of the control."
"Let's look at the past two legislative sessions and look at how many new laws they passed that restrict the freedoms of the people of Texas," said Devera Morgan, 34, of Royse City, who uses her computer skills to design the organization's monthly newsletter, The Quill. "Last session it was what 1,800 laws? That's just unacceptable."
Last month, Ms. Morgan, Mr. Coleman and a dozen others from the Dallas-Fort Worth area united for their regular monthly gathering at a steakhouse in Dallas.
Under the watchful eye of the mounted head of a longhorn, they bantered, railed and picked each others' brains about the war on drugs (pointless), privatizing education (try it), gun rights (defend them), business regulation (reduce it) the USA Patriot Act (repeal it) and, of course, eventually relocating to the Granite State.
"That's the question here," Mr. Coleman said over plates of steak and salad. "What do people really think is going to happen?"
"There's the comfort," replied Austin Marshall of Richardson, "of living in a freer state."
"I think a lot of people," Mr. Coleman continued, "think it will be a ... a..."
"Revolution?" offered Joey Dauben of Ovilla.
"Yeah," Mr. Coleman replied. "Or that it will be perfect for business."
Joe Hill, an Irving resident who has yet to pledge, was philosophical. "I think the people behind this know it's a long-term thing," he said, "that maybe it'll take 20 years to privatize the schools or whatever."
Indeed, the movement's Web site, www.freestateproject.org, predicts that at the current rate of pledges, it will take more than six years to achieve the 20,000-member mark needed to trigger the pledges' mass movement to the Northeast.
About two dozen Free Staters already have made the move since Oct. 1, when New Hampshire was chosen over nine other states in mail-in balloting among members. The nominated states all had low populations and low costs to finance elections, important to a fledgling movement looking for influence. But New Hampshire, where a 400-member House of Representatives enables each seat to represent only 3,000 residents, was the only state to outright welcome the Free Staters.
"We'd love to have you," Gov. Craig Benson told the group Nov. 1 at the annual convention of the state Libertarian Party. About half of the Free Staters are party members, but the remainder is just independent-minded folks.
And some of them vent frustration that the big "L" party has elected few candidates beyond local offices in its 32 years of existence. New Hampshire, for example, has only 29 Libertarians in office.
Michael Badnarik of Austin understands that frustration. He freely admits that getting freethinking libertarians together small "l" or big "L" is like herding cats. But that hasn't stopped Mr. Badnarik, 49, from seeking the Libertarian Party's nomination for president, financing his shoestring campaign by teaching eight-hour courses on the Constitution around the country.
And should he not win the presidency, look for him in New Hampshire in a year and running for the state House after that.
Various political scientists, however, have expressed doubts over the last couple of months that the Free Staters can truly have influence even in a small state.
"Oftentimes the number of people who vote isn't that large, but it's still in the quarter-million range," said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. "So they need to find a close race where they can do a fusion with the Republican Party because electing their own candidate is unlikely."
And this, Dr. Jillson said, is if Free Staters live up to their pledge to put down roots in Manchester, Concord or Dixville Notch.
"Lots of people talk about it, but to leave for another place that fits your ideology is rare in American politics," he said. "There's a huge difference between going into a chat room and talking nonsense, and actually packing up your things and moving to New Hampshire."
Indeed, there are obstacles, both practical and personal. Many in the movement are tech-savvy, but thousands of tech jobs may not be awaiting them in New England. Some have not broken the news to spouses or fiancÃ©Â¥Â³ about the movement; they need time to ease their partners into the idea.
Others joke about leaving warm Texas for cold New Hampshire, but it's more than weather that tugs on their soul.
When Ms. Morgan, a native Texan, became pregnant with her son in 1997 during an 18-month stab at living in Mississippi, she insisted to husband Bruce that any child of hers must be born between the Red River and the Rio Grande.
"I'll move to go to a freer place," said Ms. Morgan, who intends to trek northward with her family next spring. "But I'm not thrilled about leaving Texas. This is a big deal for me."
But the lure of seeing more than a dozen of their kind in one place, doing more than talking, has a stronger pull than Texas.
"We can sit in our armchairs and complain about the world, or we can go there like people before us did and say, 'It's time for a change, and it's for us to make the change,' " said Mr. Coleman. "You just don't have the opportunity much in the world today to be part of a real political change."
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).