This article from NYTimes.com
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The NY Times has written an article on the New Hampshire Libertarian Movement Program.
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Libertarians Pursue New Goal: State of Their Own
October 27, 2003
By PAM BELLUCK
KEENE, N.H. - A few things stand out about this
unprepossessing city. It just broke its own Guinness Book
world record for the most lighted jack-o'-lanterns with
28,952. It claims to have the world's widest Main Street.
And recently, Keene became the home of Justin Somma, a
26-year-old freelance copywriter from Suffern, N.Y., and a
foot soldier in an upstart political movement. That
movement, the Free State Project, aims to make all of New
Hampshire a laboratory for libertarian politics by
recruiting libertarian-leaning people from across the
country to move to New Hampshire and throw their collective
weight around. Leaders of the project figure 20,000 people
would do the trick, and so far 4,960 have pledged to make
The idea is to concentrate enough fellow travelers in a
single state to jump-start political change. Members, most
of whom have met only over the Internet, chose New
Hampshire over nine other states in a heated contest that
(The other contenders were Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Maine,
Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.
One frequently asked question on the project's Web site was
"Can't you make a warmer state an option?")
Once here, they plan to field candidates in elections and
become active in schools and community groups, doing all
they can to sow the libertarian ideals of curbing taxes,
minimizing regulation of guns and drugs, privatizing
schools and reducing government programs.
"We want to make New Hampshire our home, and we want to
make it a better place for everybody," said Elizabeth
McKinstry, a project spokeswoman. "Many times government
gets in the way."
One appeal of New Hampshire is the state's reputation for
flinty individualism (although it has only about 400
dues-paying Libertarian Party members). The 150 Free
Staters already living here lobbied hard for the state, and
Gov. Craig Benson, a Republican, met with visiting members
and told them to "come on up, we'd love to have you."
If the idea catches on, the movement may benefit from the
unusually high political profile New Hampshire has because
of its early presidential primary.
Some Free Staters plan to move when the project attracts
20,000 participants, which it hopes to do by 2006. But many
intend to move sooner, and a few have already arrived.
"Having so many people move into a state means we can
really raise issues," Mr. Somma said. "Once we start to
elect people to the Statehouse, I think the low-hanging
fruit will be issues like educational reform and medical
Keene, a college town of 24,000, is not the only Free
Stater destination in New Hampshire. Indeed, as many
members acknowledge, one quandary for a movement of
individualistic people is that it can be hard to get
everyone on the same page.
Devera Morgan and her husband, Bruce, a computer
consultant, plan to move soon from Royse City, Tex.,
possibly to far-north Coos County or the White Mountain
town of North Conway. "I didn't think I would ever leave
Texas; that's how much I believe in this project," said Ms.
Morgan, 34, who wants to lift restrictions on home
schooling and says she may run for office in New Hampshire.
Although Jackie Casey had voted for Wyoming, she just moved
from Portland, Ore., to Merrimack, between Nashua and
Manchester, renting a basement apartment with her cat,
Soopa Doopa Hoopa, and her two 9-millimeter handguns. (She
wants a machine gun "or at least a rifle" for Christmas.)
She has already hung one wall and her bathroom with framed
posters of Frank Zappa, who was a libertarian himself.
"I don't like to go places that don't let me have my gun,"
said Ms. Casey, 33, who sells memberships to a Las Vegas
survivalist training institute and models for comic books
(her likeness has graced the cover of one called Reload).
Her New Hampshire plans include starting eight businesses
"because nine out of every 10 fail, and I've already
started two, so I need to do eight more."
"I want to be a billionaire in my lifetime," she added,
"and I don't want to live among people who think that's
One project member chose the tiny town of Freedom. Also
planning to move to New Hampshire are two candidates for
the 2004 presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party.
Some project members favor zeroing in on one county or
town to maximize their influence, and are scouting out
about 30 communities light on property taxes and strictures
like building codes. "We completely support and respect
that," Ms. McKinstry said. "We just would never dictate to
The Free State has its opponents here, and shoulder
"If you've got people saying we just want to mind our own
business, keep government out of our lives, hey, we all
feel that way," said Kathy Sullivan, chairwoman of the
state Democratic Party. "But if they want to have a radical
change in our form of government, no, you're not welcome
Michael Blastos, Keene's Democratic mayor, said he was not
concerned because Keene had too little housing to
accommodate many newcomers, and "anything at all that would
stimulate the voters and get them stirred up is a good
Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth, called
the project a "gimmick" and dismissed "the idea that 20,000
people are going to make a critical difference in New
Hampshire, a state of a million and a half people with very
high voter participation."
But, she said, "I suppose if they really did produce 20,000
people, then that might provide a margin in some
legislative elections in some parts of the state."
That seems to be exactly what the project has in mind,
according to an article by its founder, Jason Sorens, a
political science lecturer at Yale.
"When we arrive in our state, we will have to do our best
to blend in, lay down roots in the community, and slowly
build our individual reputations," he wrote. "If we come in
trumpeting an `abolish-everything' platform, we will make
enemies out of people who might otherwise be sympathetic to
us. The key idea behind the F.S.P. is that for every
activist, we will be able to generate several voters."
Dr. Sorens wrote that "within about 10 years after our
move, we should have people in the state legislature and we
should have entrenched political control of several towns
and counties." He added that "once we have control of the
county sheriffs' offices, we can order federal law
enforcement agents out, or exercise strict supervision of
their activities," and "once we have obtained some success
in the state legislature, we can start working on the
New Hampshire's constitution guarantees the "right of
revolution" if "the ends of government are perverted and
public liberty manifestly endangered."
But that is not their intention, Ms. McKinstry said,
pointing to their mascot, a porcupine - "a friendly little
forest creature who doesn't harm anyone else, minds his own
business, but is not really someone that you want to mess
with or you might get stuck and a little ouchy."
Dr. Sorens, 26, said the project reflected his upbringing
in Houston as the son of a single mother who pulled herself
out of poverty with help from relatives and a Christian
charity. He also drew on the migration of the Mormons, the
journey of the Pilgrims and the movement of many
liberal-minded people to Vermont in the 1970's.
Free Staters, many of them college graduates under 50
earning $60,000 or more, were looking for a state that was
small (fewer than 1.5 million people), with low campaign
spending, so Free State candidates could compete.
New Hampshire's lack of income tax and sales tax,
relatively healthy economy, liberal gun laws and proximity
to Boston helped. A big plus was its legislature, the
country's largest with 417 members and a state
representative for roughly every 3,000 people.
"In New Hampshire, there's so many elected positions that
anyone can become cemetery trustee or dog catcher," Ms.
About 1,000 project members opted out of moving to New
Hampshire, largely for geographic reasons, and Dr. Sorens
said the project might eventually designate a second free
state out west. Ultimately, he said, he hopes for regional
chapters and a new political party with broader appeal than
the Libertarian Party.
So far, Free Staters range along the libertarian spectrum,
some more moderate than others.
Ms. Casey advocates eliminating entitlements because "then
you'd only attract immigrants who are hard-working people."
She said: "I radically oppose public education. It's
demeaning and it creates criminals." And she says "the
thing that hurts poor people is they don't know how to
think of themselves as rich."
Mr. Somma doesn't argue against public schools, but
maintains that they get too much money, which is good only
"if you have to have nice school buildings and computers
and all that." "Back in the day," he said, "they didn't
need all that to teach kids. Back in the day, you were
sitting around on rocks and listening to a guy talk."
Mr. Somma, who grew up in Brooklyn, confessed that he and
his wife moved for lifestyle reasons, too, not just
Otherwise, he said, "I could never pitch to my parents, my
wife: Listen, here's this group of people going to move to
another state, and I'm going with them."