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How will New Hampshire cope with the Libertarian horde about to descend on the state?

10.15.03

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NEW HAMPSHIRE -- After a nationwide search and an online vote, the Free State Project, recently chose my home state as the base of what they hope will become a libertarian renaissance. The plan is to move some 20,000 small government activists into the state, and begin a ground-up takeover of the government.

The local Democratic Party greeted the libertarians' announcement with today's equivalent of a burning effigy, the hysterical press release. Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan accused Free Staters of harboring "a radical, antifamily agenda," and charged the group with wanting to "legalize prostitution, legalize drugs and eliminate public schools."

This was quite a turnaround for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, which stood by twiddling its thumbs when the national Party mailed out full color brochures supporting Dan Belforti, the Libertarian 2002 congressional candidate. As far as anyone has been able to determine, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hoped the mailings would cut into the lead Republican Jeb Bradley held over Democrat Martha Fuller Clark. Sullivan stifled any tsk-tsking over the "radical, antifamily agenda" her party was promoting, when it would benefit them.

So what exactly is going on in New Hampshire? Every editorial page in the state, conservative and liberal alike, has dismissed the Free State Project as a utopian experiment destined to fail, so why the uproar? Why the attacks? The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once observed, "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

The truth, in this case, is that the Free State Project could indeed make a difference. The strain of conservatism in New Hampshire is more libertarian than Puritan. The 400-member state legislature is the fourth largest deliberative body in the world and in some districts, representatives can be elected with as few as 700 votes. Even in the few heavily Democratic districts, like the one in which I am registered, libertarian candidates routinely collect a few hundred dangling chads. Further, Libertarians have been elected to the legislature in the past without the assistance of the Free State Project -- the idea that 20,000 activists could not tip the scales seems a mite optimistic on the establishment's part.

New Hampshire is famous for its aversion to centralized power. Shortly before Sept. 11, the city of Newington, angry over property taxes, was on the verge of taking a vote on whether to secede from the state. If a militantly pro-liberty voting bloc were to materialize overnight, there's no telling what could happen.

As for the "hostile takeover" argument, New Hampshire has been under siege for several years already by Massachusetts liberals, who flee the heavy tax burden of the Old Colony State, and once here began to immediately advocate…a heavier tax burden. (We have the same problem with Canadians.) Candidates who advocate either a sales or state income tax are still soundly defeated, but the fact that these candidates exist at all gives testament to the increasing influence of the carpet bagging liberals in New Hampshire. Local Democrats are angry, in part, because they're about to get back a bit of their own.

Of course, many barriers lie in the path to small government bliss, not the least of which is the activists themselves. These are, after all libertarians: a famously fractious and doctrinaire group. Already, the Free State Project has some inner squabbling. One faction, loathe to make the trek eastward has broken off to try to form its own free state in the west. The whole project could implode before it gets off the ground. But could it work? It just might.

If they do manage to arrive in sufficient numbers, the Free Staters will change politics as we know it in New Hampshire. A libertarian delegation, even a small one, in the state house would deliver what has become the last refuge of small government: gridlock. Free Staters could hold up votes, cancel out the moderate Republican votes that always seem to favor the Democrats, and generally wreak havoc with the process of the government spending people's money.

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