Free State Project participants have 101 reasons to move to N.H.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series that will explore the Free State Project. This week, we look at who Free Staters are and why they choose to live in New Hampshire.
It is a movement that began outside of New Hampshire by a group of people who describe themselves as “pro-liberty activists,” and in 2003 they made the decision to call New Hampshire their home.
They are participants in what is called the Free State Project, an organized effort to get 20,000 libertarian-leaning individuals to weave their way into the Granite State’s political, social and business tapestry.
Formed out of a belief that government – as stated on the group’s website – exists “at most to protect people’s rights, and should neither provide for people nor punish them for activities that interfere with no one else,” the Free State Project has, thus far, brought approximately 1,100 people to New Hampshire from other parts of the country.
State Rep. Mark Warden is one of those people. A citizen of the Granite State since 2007, Warden recently won election to a second term in the state Legislature, where he represents Goffstown, Weare and Deering.
“I moved here from Las Vegas, Nev.,” said Warden, a real estate agent. “I was single – I still am – and so it was fairly easy for me to just pick up and leave. I was involved in new home construction in Nevada, and I was getting more and more interested in becoming an activist. Overall, I love it here. The winters are cold, but the scenery is beautiful.”
Warden, like many other Free State participants, found that the scenery wasn’t the only thing that attracted him to New Hampshire. He left Nevada for many reasons, not the least of which was New Hampshire’s tax policies – specifically, the lack of an income and sales tax, as well as no capital gains tax.
Freedom from taxes is included in a list of 101 reasons why Free Staters should move to New Hampshire, according to the organization’s website.
In fact, taxes – or a lack of them – figure heavily in what the Free State Project considers the leading virtues of the Granite State. New Hampshire has no inventory tax, the list points out, nor does it have a tax on “machinery or equipment.”
The fact that motorcyclists need not wear a helmet and adults need not wear seatbelts also make the list, as does the fact that New Hampshire has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation.
For Warden, who in the most recent election defeated Granite State native Aaron Gill, New Hampshire is an ideal state to pursue the ideals of the Free State Project.
Warden bristles – only slightly – when it’s suggested that Free State participants are little more than libertarians with an updated mission statement and goal.
“That’s a bit of an oversimplification” he said. “But certainly there are libertarian-leaning participants among the Free Staters who are mostly people with families and good paying jobs who take a nonviolent, nonaggressive approach and who believe that less government is better government.”
Warden believes government creates more problems than it solves, a view echoed by the Free State Project’s official literature.
“The government, typically, when it tries to solve something only makes it worse,” said Warden.
A like-minded thinker is Brian Wright, 63, who’s been associated with the libertarian cause for more than a decade. Wright is more free-spoken when it comes to making the connection between the Free State Project and the libertarian movement, saying that almost 100 percent of Free Staters agree with the libertarian platform. As for Free Staters in the state Legislature, Wright puts the number at between 15 and 20 who are currently serving in the House of Representatives.
Wright currently lives in Michigan to take care of his ailing mother, but retains a residence in Merrimack and writes a blog called the Coffee Coaster, which focuses on Libertarian ideas and commentary. When he first came to New Hampshire for the Free State Project, he lived in New Boston.
“Because of the way the two-party system and the political structure is constructed, it’s very hard” for libertarians to gain a foothold in any state, Wright said. “We’re such a minority, relative to the rest of the population ... so the idea behind the Free State Project was to improve our numbers, percentage-wise, relative to people who are politically active in a given region.”
And that’s, in part, why New Hampshire presents such an appealing prospect for Free Staters. With a relatively small population and an established libertarian ethic among the state’s political and business establishment, Free Staters find a natural affinity between New Hampshire and Free Staters’ ideals and aspirations.
“It’s a big quality of life thing, too – New Hampshire is just a great place to live,” said Wright. “We came in because we love the state. We love the idea of the state being one of the more freedom-oriented states that ever existed, and the vast majority of the people who live in New Hampshire are liberty-oriented.”
The difficulty that libertarians have getting themselves elected to public office is a real one, which is why many libertarians and Free Staters will run on a Republican Party ticket, Wright pointed out.
“More likely they’re going to run as Republicans to get into the State House,” Wright said. “The perception of the Republican Party by some is it’s more respectful of property and ... economic freedom.”
And just what does economic freedom mean to the typical Free Stater?
Warden points to the new federal health care law as exhibit number one in the Free Staters’ argument against high taxation.
“Now it’s my responsibility to help my neighbor get health care?” Warden asked. “The federal health care law is yet another big government redistribution of wealth that will ultimately fail.”
When asked whether there are enough resources outside of government to create a social safety net for those unable, for whatever reasons, to care for themselves, Warden is unequivocal in his answer. “Yes,” he said. “The first safety net should be families. Second, we are a very charitable nation on whole, and we would have a lot more money to donate if we weren’t taxed so much.”
One concern that Warden has is the perception that the Free State Project is little more than an effort to take over the state’s political system.
“The Free State Project is not political,” said Warden. “They don’t encourage people to run, and they don’t go against candidates. Some Free State participants get involved politically, but others get involved through their church or some other groups, and some don’t do anything. They just live quietly, side by side with their neighbors, working hard and raising families.”
As a state legislator who happens to be a Free Stater, however, Warden does have his opinions about ways in which New Hampshire can improve its quality of life, and chief among these is pursuing a fiscally conservative political agenda.
“We need to look at the unfunded liabilities that are the pension and health insurance for state retirees that’s costing New Hampshire an estimated $4 billion,” said Warden. “That’s a financial burden on our children and grandchildren. It’s time we ask employees to pay a little more, to contribute a little more to these programs and for the state to be a little more innovative in how it administers these programs.”
Warden also cites what he terms as a “lack of good choices in education,” noting that the two teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Teachers Association, present little more than a “monolithic structure” that doesn’t serve the interests of today’s students.
“The fact is that the education establishment hates competition to the detriment of students,” Warden said. “There needs to be more accountability for teachers and staff.”
As appealing as New Hampshire is to Free Staters, Warden said the state is not without its warts. As a state legislator, he said he would like to reduce the number of professions that require licensing.
“Government destroys jobs,” said Warden. “Reducing regulations and burdens on businesses allows entrepreneurship to flourish.
"In New Hampshire, there are over 150 professions requiring licenses – nail shops and manicurists, massage therapists. None of this ensures consumer protection. It’s just a way to generate fees and it prevents poor people from starting their own businesses.”
- Next week, we talk to longtime residents critical of the Free State movement.
- Henry Metz, email@example.com, and Dan Moberger, firstname.lastname@example.org