Al Jazeera Reports on the FSP & Keene

One of the best news agencies in the world (since they aren’t necessarily biased in favor of the American state), Al-Jazeera, has reported on the Free State Project:

Loudon, New Hampshire – On Tuesday, Republicans in the state of New Hampshire vote for their presidential nominee in the first primary in the nation.

With all eyes on the horse race between the six major Republican candidates, some interesting political trends within the state of New Hampshire itself have gone unexamined. The state – with an official motto of “Live Free or Die” – has a political culture steeped in a small-government mindset. And partly for that reason, almost 1,000 political migrants have moved to New Hampshire over the past several years as part of the Free State Project.

The idea behind the Free State Project began ten years ago. Jason Sorens – a libertarian, who believes in minimal government involvement in society and the economy – lamented the fact that few libertarians were being elected to public office in the US.

So Sorens proposed that 20,000 libertarian-minded US citizens “establish residence in a small state and take over the state government”. Members would pledge to work at “reducing government to the minimal functions of protecting life, liberty and property”.

The Free State Project (FSP) was founded soon thereafter. In 2003, FSP participants voted to move to the northeastern state of New Hampshire, in part because of its low taxes and few regulations. Some participants also pointed out that New Hampshire, with a deep-water port and international border with Canada, could be a viable independent state if it were to secede from the rest of the US.

With a small population and the largest state legislature in the country, New Hampshire is also a relatively easy place to get elected to office.

The FSP itself has a limited scope; its only goal as an organisation is to convince pledge signers to move to New Hampshire. Once they move, participants are under no obligation to run for office or be politically active.

But there are some commonly held tenets. Sorens said FSP participants tend to think there should be big cuts in government spending and taxation, greater school choice for parents, “more of a market- and charity-oriented approach” to health care, and looser laws against marijuana, among others.

Since 2003, more than 11,000 people have pledged to move to New Hampshire, but just under a thousand people have actually moved.

Yet although fewer than the 20,000 initially called for, Free Staters have had an outsized influence on state politics – and many are quite active in the Republican primary as well.

Wave of support

The midterm elections in 2010 – widely seen as a backlash against President Obama and the Democratic Party – were a major success for Republicans. The party gained 63 seats in the federal House of Representatives and won big victories at the state level, too.

The landslide gave New Hampshire Republicans a lopsided 295-105 majority in the state House of Representatives. As many as 14 candidates identifying as “Free Staters” were elected – all as Republicans – as well as many more libertarian-leaning legislators not affiliated with the FSP. Libertarians tend to feel ideologically closer to the Republican Party, which has historically favoured a smaller federal government.

Since 2010, the New Hampshire state legislature has passed many measures favoured by libertarians that cut the state budget, reduce the size of government, and loosen regulations on businesses. A bill co-sponsored by two Free Stater legislators, among others, expanded New Hampshirites’ ability to legally use deadly force for self-defence. And a largely Republican committee did away with a ban on guns in the statehouse.

When the state legislature began a new session last week, several bills quickly passed the House. One lets parents exempt their children from course material in school that they find objectionable; another prevents universities from banning firearms on campus; another removes some regulations on insurance companies. It remains unclear, however, whether these bills will be signed into law.

Not all of the legislation’s success can be chalked up to the efforts of Free Stater lawmakers – after all, they still number just over a dozen out of a chamber of 400.

But one FSP participant and legislator says that he now thinks only a few thousand people need to move to New Hampshire in order to achieve the project’s goals. “I think if we get two or three thousand people here, game over. We’ll be able to achieve what a lot of people want.”

And Don Gorman, a New Hampshire native and former state legislator who works on campaigns for libertarian-leaning candidates, said the FSP participants in the legislature “support each other. They’re very independent as individuals, but they’re a very tight-knit group”.

Of the project’s opponents, he said: “They’re standing there jumping up and down throwing rocks, and we’re quietly going and getting elected to this and that and the other thing.”

Differences in method

State legislator and FSP participant Jennifer Coffey, however, downplays Free Staters’ unity. Despite common goals, she says they’re “not all cut from the same cloth”. Many are interested in electoral politics, though a minority – about one-third, estimates Sorens – leans towards protests and civil disobedience instead.

Garret Ean is one of the latter. Ean, a 23-year-old who moved to New Hampshire in 1996 (before the FSP came into being), is involved with Occupy New Hampshire and runs a website that provides news about civil liberties activism in the state, often focusing on abuses of police power. Ean said he felt impelled to start the site in 2010 after several arrests in New Hampshire of people filming police officers on duty.

Some FSP participants – especially in western New Hampshire towns such as Keene – have held demonstrations that are legal, but controversial. For instance, in 2009, 18-year-old Cassidy Nicosia walked through Keene topless with a handgun strapped to her hip, causing a small uproar. Others do break the law: Some Free Staters have publicly played drinking games and smoked marijuana in downtown Keene to protest laws against what they say are victimless crimes.

The different approaches can cause tension. Coffey, who’s twice co-sponsored a bill that would legalise medicinal marijuana, complained that some FSP participants’ civil disobedience had undermined her work. “They were doing protests, and smoking dope, and violating the law, and creating what I thought was a negative scene, and it did cost us some votes.”

The pushback

Meanwhile, some New Hampshirites resent what they see as a stealth campaign by FSP participants to gain political power in the state. Others are alarmed by participants’ adamant small-government positions.

Victoria Parmele, a member of the town planning board in Northwood, New Hampshire, is wary of Free State Project participants’ approach towards state politics. “It takes some time to understand New Hampshire, and to consider whether libertarianism truly has a role to play in this state,” said Parmele, an environmentalist opposed to bills backed by Free Stater legislators that would defund the state rail authority and end an energy efficiency programme. “I’d like to have a public discussion on this, as opposed to this ‘we’ve decided that New Hampshire should be our bastion of liberty’.”

And Caitlin Rollo, a former Democratic state representative, said that many FSP participants running for election in 2010 “did not advertise who they are, or what they’re about, or that they moved to our state with the intent of running for public office to change our political system”.

Of the FSP participants currently serving as state representatives, few mention the Free State Project on their personal websites. In August 2011, a local newspaper published an editorial charging that there had been “a concerted effort” on the part of the state Republican Party “to avoid an open and full discussion” of the fact that one of its candidates, Honey Puterbaugh, was an FSP participant.

Free Stater legislators say they don’t deny their participation in the project. “I’ve always been honest and upfront about it if someone’s asked me,” said Coffey. And DeJong explained that he does not mention the Free State Project on his website because of the media’s negative coverage. “They portray the side of the Free State Project that comes from places like Keene,” he said.

DeJong stressed a conciliatory approach. “The key to the success has been those of us that have come here in the sense of saying, ‘We’re not here to take your state over. We’re here to live beside you; we’re here to be your neighbour, your friend. We’re here to do what we can to fit in’.”

Leaning towards Paul

New Hampshire votes on January 10 in the Republican Party’s presidential primary. Could Free State participants make a difference in the outcome?

Purely on a numbers level, they’re not likely to have a huge impact. Almost 235,000 people voted in the New Hampshire Republican primary in 2008, dwarfing the 985 people who have moved to the state as part of the Free State Project. And, says Coffey, FSP participants are in “every different camp”, supporting candidates from Newt Gingrich to Jon Huntsman to Rick Santorum.

But a majority of Free Staters seem to support Texas congressman Ron Paul, whose opposition to US military intervention and a powerful federal government resonates with libertarians. At a Paul rally in Nashua, Scott Carlson – a high school teacher who recently moved from Chicago to New Hampshire as an FSP participant – said he admired Paul’s opposition to legislation such as the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would expand the federal government’s power over content on the internet; and the National Defence Authorisation Act, which allows for the indefinite detention of terror suspects without trial. “A lot of these police state things – I think it’s really a shame,” said Carlson.

A sizeable contingent of Free Staters had backed former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson for president – and some still do. But after Johnson dropped out of the Republican race to run for president as a member of the Libertarian Party, FSP participant Denis Goddard says “virtually everyone is now Ron Paul”.

Free Staters’ numbers may not be huge, but those that are involved in the Paul campaign are passionate. FSP participants are responsible for making many of the huge Ron Paul banners currently draped across overpasses on New Hampshire highways. And Ean says a political action committee affiliated with Paul’s campaign held a fundraiser with FSP participants in Manchester.

DeJong, the co-chair of Ron Paul’s campaign in the city of Manchester, estimates that about 400 of the almost 1,000 Free Staters in New Hampshire are actively involved in the campaign, phone banking and going door-to-door to talk to potential voters about Ron Paul.

“That’s a number we wouldn’t have without the Free State Project.”

  • enslave keene

    I can see why a culture like that who watch Al Jazeera would want an anarchist government. Im sure FK and FSP are well loved by the AJ network.

  • Butt Genie

    "One of the best news agencies in the world…" Really guys? I'm glad they did a story about you freestaters, but the best in the world? Seriously?

    Apparently, I just need to not be biased toward Amarican state and I become the best in the world.

  • http://propagandalalaland.blogspot.com/ Julia

    enslave keene – Not sure how many times I've said this on here, but very few free staters seem to want a genuine anarchy. What they desire is rule by rich landlords, aka "anarcho-capitalism" (which, from everything I've read, sounds closer to feudalism than anarchy). In fact, the only FSers I know who want an actual stateless society are the anti-capitalist left-libertarians and mutualists.

    The AJ article was fairly decent. I have to ask if anyone in FK or the greater FSP thinks NH will lose some of its reputation as a libertarian paradise now that Ron Paul received less than 23% of the primary vote while Romney (a huge statist) received nearly 40%.

  • Pyotr

    That's mainly because Ron Paul is bordering on insanity while Romney is at least understandable.

    FK advocates fuedalism. That's the only thing I have ever been met with.

  • Skeptikos

    "I have to ask if anyone in FK or the greater FSP thinks NH will lose some of its reputation as a libertarian paradise now that Ron Paul received less than 23% of the primary vote while Romney (a huge statist) received nearly 40%."

    What are you talking about? New Hampshire obviously isn't a libertarian paradise. Though it's relatively nice. And 23% is huge.

    Plus there's evidence suggesting that NH has the highest support for Ron Paul, as a percentage of population, and that Free Staters are a driving force behind this.

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/blog/ron-p

    http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jsorens/rpvotes.pdf

  • http://propagandalalaland.blogspot.com/ Julia

    I know a lot of Ron Paul supporters are outright conspiracy theorists (whether they admit it or not) and will very quickly jump on the whole "the NH primary vote was RIGGED; RON PAUL WON; Diebold voting machine fraud; la la la la la la….", but something they need to keep in mind is that 1) RP has been called "unelectable" and even some libertarians say there's no way he's be able to beat Obama, and 2) the Republican Party which RP is a part of is still in no way in-line with a good amount of RP's views, so it's understandable why those people would not vote for him.

  • outsider

    Yeah pretty much, if you desire an MSM-like source with dignity and integrity you're left with Aljazeera, RussiaToday for mostly videos & http://english.pravda.ru/ .

  • http://freetalklive.com/ Ian

    Julia, don't forget Ron Paul got under 8% in NH in 2008. I'd call a 300% increase progress.

  • http://propagandalalaland.blogspot.com/ Julia

    Will, the survey you linked to had some interesting info, however I'd keep in mind that the survey was from several years ago and the fact that candidates can afford to spend a lot of time and money on campaigns in NH since NH is the first primary (hence, candidates who would have otherwise not had a very good chance are able to do better in NH than elsewhere).

    Ian, I'm well aware that RP came in fifth(?) in NH last time around. I'm just commenting from the perspective of someone who would be questioning whether or not NH can be called the "most libertarian state" or "the state with the most libertarians" since I've seen a lot of criticism of the FSP and NH politics in general from libertarians. A lot of them are questioning the amount of influence the FSP/FK has or how successful FSP/FK efforts have been to "reduce the level of government" in NH since all they tend to see are the arrests and courtroom drama.

  • http://propagandalalaland.blogspot.com/ Julia

    Also take into consideration that a huge amount of NH voters were undecided until primary time. I didn't vote, but my dad and my brother who did told me that they were undecided until they entered the voting booth (both of them voted for RP). The point is, most people didn't like *any* of the candidates. Not really surprising knowing that the whole system is f***ing us.

  • …?

    Once again, proof that many FSPers don't think FK is going about it the right way:

    "Cameron DeJong, a state representative from Manchester, explained that he does not mention the Free State Project on his website because of the media’s negative coverage. "They portray the side of the Free State Project that comes from places like Keene," he said."

    Note that he's not saying the media misrepresents FK, but that FK misrepresents the goals of FSP.

  • david

    Julia,

    You just seek out digs

    That's all you do.

    There is not much to admire about that.

    It makes you a troll. :-)

  • david

    With out the fsp ron paul would have got A LOT LESS VOTES. I bet 10% at least.

    He is a idiot for not giving them props for that.

    Ron Paul came in second thanks to the fsp.

  • david

    Julia,

    The fsp was HUGE for ron paul in this :HUGE.

    The vote count just shows what a small percentage of people can DO to influence the votes ie fsp folk getting votes for rp.

  • david

    the results just show that the state isn't ALL free staters and that a small amount of dedicated people can be HUGE in a election.

  • Skeptikos

    Julia:

    "Will, the survey you linked to had some interesting info, however I’d keep in mind that the survey was from several years ago and the fact that candidates can afford to spend a lot of time and money on campaigns in NH since NH is the first primary (hence, candidates who would have otherwise not had a very good chance are able to do better in NH than elsewhere)."

    That's true of all candidates, not just long-shot candidates.. Mitt Romney probably spent more time and money in NH than Ron Paul did.

    According to Jason Sorens' analysis, the NH primary understates Ron Paul's support compared to other states, because

    1) We have a primary, not a caucus (caucuses are more responsive to die-hard supporters),

    2) There are more candidates in the race this early in the primary (meaning more competition for votes), and

    3) Overall turnout is higher in NH (drowning out Paul's strong support, to a degree).

    I don't think there's any basis at all for saying that NH primary results overstate Paul's support in NH compared to other states.

  • Toomanyfakeconservat

    Wow, FSP and FK are going big time! Good work…

  • http://propagandalalaland.blogspot.com/ Julia

    "3) Overall turnout is higher in NH (drowning out Paul’s strong support, to a degree)."

    Wouldn't that indicate that there are far LESS supporters of Ron Paul in NH?

    On a fairly different note, on Sunday right before I attended the "Ron Paul party" in Manchester I talked to a few libertarians from Philly who came up to NH to campaign. They were asking me all sorts of questions about NH and how libertarian the environment really is here compared with other states (they're from PA, a very statist state from what I've been told). For one thing, they asked me why you don't see all that many businesses in downtown Manch and why businesses aren't drooling to come to NH because of low taxes/low regulations. They really did think Manch was Hong Kong due to all the propaganda they've been told, no joke. I told them that the reason why is because it's far more efficient in a lot of respects to put your business in Boston since the market in Boston is much *larger* (you can reach hundreds of more people in downtown Boston than downtown Manch, so despite all the more taxes in Mass you end up making more money in the long-run) and being in Boston gives you much easier access to things like college-educated potential workers, shipping ports, etc. They also asked me if I thought NH was ever going to secede. I gave them a big, "NO WAY IN HELL." I told them that a sizable amount of NH's population works in Mass and they'd never, ever go for an international boundary being placed between them and their work. Likewise, NH's economy wouldn't do all that well without all the resources Mass provides. One of my friends told me that he thinks NH was the wrong state to pick, and that the FSP should have picked one with a much more "sovereign" economy so secession would be much easier. Thoughts?

  • david

    there was over 2000 write in dem votes for rp too julia :-)

  • david

    Ron Paul’s 2,271 democratic write-in votes combined with the official 56,872 votes gained in the republican primary secured him a second place finish in both 2012 New Hampshire primaries.

  • http://propagandalalaland.blogspot.com/ Julia

    Okay, but how will that in itself convince more people that NH is libertarian-land? Like I said, there's a lot of skeptical libertarians who doubt the FSP.

  • david

    I THINK THATS IMPRESSIVE THOUGH ; IT DOES SHOW THAT THE LIBERTARIANS REPRESENT AND ARE CROSSOVER sorry for the caps….

  • http://propagandalalaland.blogspot.com/ Julia

    It doesn't prove, however, that NH is the "most likely to secede" or the most likely to go "stateless" (as if that could ever happen; businesses LOVE the state, even mom and pop stores like statism since it means they can get subsidized roads, patents, etc.).

  • david

    it could mean it will be the freest …OR IS

  • Skeptikos

    Julia:

    You wrote

    –“3) Overall turnout is higher in NH (drowning out Paul’s strong support, to a degree).”

    Wouldn’t that indicate that there are far LESS supporters of Ron Paul in NH?–

    Ron Paul tends to have a small but dedicated group of supporters. They'll vote for him regardless of the overall turnout. So, when turnout is higher, that means the fairweather supporters of opposing candidates are more likely to vote, pushing down Paul's percentage.

    However, on second thought, there is one reason to expect New Hampshire results to be biased toward RP– our open primaries could benefit Ron Paul, since he probably has relatively strong support among unregistered voters.

    All in all, though, the percent of the vote that RP receives in NH will underestimate his support when compared to other states. At least, according to Jason Sorens' analysis.

    As for your friend, there are plenty of people saying that kind of thing all the time. I'm not sure what state it is that has a more "sovereign" economy and is still a practical destination for the FSP. (Texas is way, way, way too big… and, besides, the religious right is annoying.) But it's too late now. If he had a better idea, he should have brought it up in 2003.

    And then you wrote

    –Okay, but how will that in itself convince more people that NH is libertarian-land? Like I said, there’s a lot of skeptical libertarians who doubt the FSP.–

    No joke. Let them be skeptical. If they don't want to move, they don't have to.

    I don't know why you're slanting the discussion in this direction. It doesn't make sense to me. It's not like we here in the Free Keene comments section have the power to change RP's primary vote total… might as well tell us about how the weather scares libertarians away. What's done is done.