The chosen state
- The chosen state
Thursday, October 02, 2003
By ALBERT McKEON Telegraph Staff
[Photo by The Concord Monitor: Ken Blevens gives a welcome hug to Michelle
Dumas during a celebratory dinner for the Free State Project at the Barley
House in Concord last night after the group announced choosing New Hampshire
as its home state.]
Won't you be their neighbor?
After considerable deliberation, a group of libertarians has chosen New
Hampshire as a home base to forward its ideal of bare-bones government. Now
the 5,454 members of the Free State Project must encourage 15,000 other
liberty-minded Americans to join the movement and, if they're not here
already, move to the Granite State.
Free State leaders announced Wednesday that New Hampshire had bested nine
other states in a polling of the group's membership. The former home of the
solitary Old Man of the Mountain topped second-place Wyoming by 10
percentage points on the ballot's ranking scale.
With one hurdle cleared, the group now needs to quadruple its membership and
ultimately assimilate in a state known for its bitter winters and frosty
"Some people have been waiting to see what was going to happen once we
reached this milestone," said Free State member and Nashua resident Rich
Tomasso. "This isn't a pipe dream. We're serious about it, and the project
will now go full steam ahead. We'll see where it goes from here."
Not all members consider themselves libertarians; some register as
Republicans and a few as Democrats. They espouse a variety of causes - gun
rights and decriminalization of marijuana, for instance - but they all dream
of an unobtrusive government that privatizes all but the most essential
The group has not only expanded its ranks over the past year, but has held
an internal debate over its future home state. Members posted treatises on
the group Web site and met at bookstore cafes debating the merits of the 10
Local members have long favored this state, partly because they wouldn't
have to uproot their lives but mainly because of the state's fiscal and
social conservatism. These members apparently made a strong case to their
compatriots across the country: You can live free or die in New Hampshire.
"We're not going to stop promoting the project," Tomasso said. "There's a
target now. We know where we're going, so we can focus."
Some Free State members who already reside here gathered Wednesday night at
a Concord restaurant to celebrate New Hampshire's victory.
Now with the party over, they will start helping newcomers negotiate the
housing market and other particulars, Tomasso said. The group hopes to reach
the 20,000-member mark within three years, and members would in theory start
moving here then. Some, though, have already expressed a desire to come
sooner, Tomasso said.
If the group does fulfill its mission, can and will New Hampshire accept
thousands of newcomers who also happen to have libertarian stripes? First,
those moving here will need a place to live. The housing market may work in
their favor right now, according to a local real estate agent.
James Goddard, owner of Coldwell Banker Ashton-Kilgore Inc., sees the market
slowing. Despite a sour economy the past few years, people had continued
investing in property as they sought profitable returns, Goddard said. But
those investors are now pulling out of real estate, he said. If Free State
members need homes, Goddard said "that would be wonderful." "We need
something to bridge the gap for Realtors," he said. "There are a lot of
multi-family homes coming onto the market now."
Once housed, where would Free State members work?
Though Free Staters might be perceived in some circles as loners intent on a
simple existence, the organization's leaders consider their members a
"largely young, well-educated, upwardly mobile group." 50% of members have
at least a bachelor's degree, and 44% earn $60,000 or more annually, with
many members employed in the high-tech industry, the group said.
Jobs have increased only slightly over the past 2 years, said Peter
Bartlett, an economist for the state Economic and Labor Market Information
Bureau. "They're certainly moving into New Hampshire when we've suffered
significant losses in manufacturing and high-tech equipment," Bartlett said.
"But we're expecting it to grow. If they can hit the cycle just right, maybe
(the state) can find jobs for new workers."
Free State members interested in the high-tech field would have to live in
southern New Hampshire, Bartlett said. If members favor living in sparsely
populated Coos and Grafton counties - as some have indicated - then the low
population would work in their favor but they would have difficulty finding
work, he said. "I don't know what will happen if they have to go to
Massachusetts for work," Bartlett said of a state not known for its
As for their stated goal of transforming politics, Free State members would
have the best success holding seats in the Legislature, said Saint Anselm
College political science professor Dante Scala. Scala wonders if Free State
members will form their own party, join a Libertarian movement that hasn't
met great success in New Hampshire, or side with Republicans. "They have to
keep a balance assimilating into a larger community," Scala said. "If they'
re assimilated, they don't keep the group identity but they don't come off
as outsiders. We have a pronounced sense of 'native' and 'non-native' even
though we see quite a lot of movement in population."
And Free State members have not yet functioned together in one state, Scala
said. A myriad of factors can break groups apart, he said. "Assuming this
all gels . . . you don't know how they work with each other," he said. "They
come from across the country. How do you stay on the same page or same
agenda? What if not everyone agrees on (decriminalizing) marijuana?"
- What is the Free State Project? http://FreeStateProject.org
The Free State Project is an initiative aiming to curb government while
promoting personal liberties. It has 5,454 members, and wants to attract
about 15,000 more like-minded people from across America in the next two
years before assimilating into New Hampshire government and culture. Members
chose the Granite State over nine other states because of its fiscal and