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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Free Staters halfway home to 20k target

The Free State Project is halfway toward reaching its goal of signing on 20,000 participants, with the aim of bringing them to New Hampshire, organizers say.

As of Monday afternoon, the number of Free Staters totaled 10,005, said project President Varrin Swearingen. Of those, about 800 now live in New Hampshire, including 250 Free Staters who already were living here before New Hampshire was selected as the state for political libertarians to try their grand experiment in creating a society of minimal government.

“People continue to move here in a steady if not increasing pace,” said Swearingen, who came from California in 2004.

“I consider myself local now,” he said.

Free Staters have been elected to local and state government in New Hampshire and have already made their presence felt in a number of ways, Swearingen said.

The project is not a political party and does not endorse any specific party. Instead, it promotes a libertarian philosophy that less is best when it comes to government.

“The ultimate goal is to have a society where the main role of government is the protection of the individual’s right, liberty and property,” he said.

One of the project’s successes to date has been passing a spending cap in the city of Manchester, said Dave Ridley, who moved to Grafton from Texas in 2004.

The cap passed by a tight vote, and it wouldn’t have been successful without the backing of Free Staters, Ridley said.

Besides electing people to office, one of the most visible and effective things that the project has accomplished is creating media outlets that promote freedom from government, Swearingen.

They include Ridley’s radio program, the Ridley Report, as well as the N.H. Free Press, Free Talk Live and a public access cable television program in Concord.

According to the project’s Web site, Free Staters chose New Hampshire as a place to locate because of the state’s livability, the large size of its legislature, and “an existing culture of liberty” that exists here. Wyoming came in second in a vote among members, with Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Vermont and North and South Dakota also among the states considered.

The organization is dedicated to migrating 20,000 pro-liberty activists who agree to downsize government in New Hampshire, with no member obligated to move here until 20,000 people have signed on.

“The Free State Project has no political platform or membership dues,” project founder Jason Sorens said. “We have participants who identify as conservative, classical liberal, libertarian, anarchist, voluntaryist, you name it. The things we care about are: Do you want more liberty and less government? Are you willing to work toward it? Are you going to be a good, neighborly person in your community? If so, the Free State Project may be just what you’re looking for.”

The project, however, has drawn its share of critics. Some have charged that its intent is to create an environment where businesses can maximize profits without being weighed down by taxes or regulation. Others have said the project has promoted civil disobedience, with some members violating drug laws and refusing to obtain driver’s licenses, which they see as a form of government intruding on individual’s rights.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or pmeighan@nashuatelegraph.com.