New Hampshire’s old motto from the American Revolution –“Live Free or Die” — might soon take on a whole new meaning. At least it will if political science lecturer Jason Sorens and the Free State Project have anything to say about it.
The Free State Project calls for a critical mass of people from around the United States to move to a single state in order to push several objectives: reducing taxes, eliminating economic and governmental regulations, repealing most drug and gun laws and fostering individual liberties.
“There is no intention to take over. Most libertarians really want to work with the governor,” President of the Yale College Libertarians Lindsay Bliss ’06 said.
The project is not affiliated with the national Libertarian Party even though it champions several Libertarian objectives. The idea for the project started in 2001 when Sorens, who was then a graduate student at Yale, wrote an essay for an online journal delineating the Free State Project idea. Within only a week, he received over 200 positive replies from interested people. He and the others began planning in an Internet forum. Most of the planning for the project has been conducted online since then.
Although Sorens founded the movement, he is currently the Chairman of the project’s board of directors, a role he described as less involved.
New Hampshire was chosen from a group of states which included Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.
“It seemed small, it seemed relatively conservative to begin with which would be easier to work within. It’s a pretty nice place,” Jonathan Berry ’05 said.
Free Staters were looking for a state that was small enough that 20,000 would make a difference, with low campaign spending, so that Free State candidates could compete and a pro-conservative or pro-Libertarian history. New Hampshire’s convenient geographical location, low state and local taxes, relatively healthy economy and liberal gun laws helped.
“It’s an advantage to have the state in the Northeast. Having Dartmouth College there will be very helpful if they want to attract academic interest,” Bliss said.
The Free State Project hopes to attract 20,000 participants to New Hampshire by 2006. But Sorens said he thinks the project will attract even more than 20,000.
“There is nothing magical about the number 20,000. Once we’ve recruited that many, we’ll recruit even more. 20,000 can be described as the minimum number that we are aiming at, the minimum goal. If there are good things going on in New Hampshire more people will be drawn to the state,” Sorens said.
Others are more cautious in their predictions.
“It remains to be seen how many people will end up going to New Hampshire,” Berry said. “Do I think that enough people will go to New Hampshire to affect real political change? I’m sceptical but hopeful.”
Political science professor David Mayhew last year expressed to the Yale Daily News his doubts about the effect that 20,000 people could have, even on a small state. But Sorens said he thinks 20,000 vocal people could have a big impact.
“These people are activists and not [just] voters and presumably they will influence the overall political culture very strongly,” Sorens said.
Bliss said she thinks the enthusiasm many Libertarians share will help Free Staters make a difference.
“Libertarians tend to be really passionate about their cause and eager to put themselves in an environment with political freedom,” Bliss said.
Sorens said he thinks the project could even spread to other states.
“Some of those policy changes will spread to other states for two main reasons: first, policies that work are frequently adopted by other jurisdictions. Second, the reduction of taxation regulations should enhance economic growth and draw businesses and individuals from other states,” Sorens said.
Sorens acknowledged that there will be disagreements on certain issues — such as abortion — goals and strategy among Free Staters since the project itself does not delineate any particular policies.
Sorens said some Free Staters favor working exclusively with the Libertarian party and others advocate working with a Republican caucus.
“[Another] strategy would be to form a non-partisan political organization that would endorse candidates on the bases of their support for concrete legislation. It would endorse candidates from any party that supported that legislation,” Sorens said.
Sorens personally favors the last strategy, he said, because he maintains that Libertarians are non-partisan.
“[They] see themselves as outside the electoral spectrum,” he said, although he acknowledged that Republicans tend to support Libertarian policy more than Democrats.
Sorens said he expects strategy to unfold over the years. He said he thinks the project will be long-term or have “long-term consequences.” Bliss agreed.
“Change in not going to happen overnight,” Bliss said.
An article in the New York Times on Oct. 27 suggested that the project could benefit from New Hampshire’s high political profile as a state with an early presidential primary.
“The effect will be minor in this round,” Sorens said. “Most [Free Staters] are interest in working first with the local and state community. Only in the long run I expect an effect on federal elections.”
Sorens said he will “eventually” move to New Hampshire, where he plans to continue teaching. While he called teaching his “real calling,” he said he thinks it is not his place to promote his political views in the classroom.
With 5,055 signed members on Nov. 3, the impact the project will have remains to be seen.