Free Staters making inroads in N.H. move

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NASHUA, N.H. (AP) – Though their efforts to get 20,000 liberty-minded people to move to New Hampshire has slowed, organizers of the Free State Project aren’t giving up.

Three years after 5,000 members chose New Hampshire as their home base for furthering the ideals of bare-bones government, the group has fallen far short of its goal of having 20,000 people ready to move to the state by 2007. To date, only about 7,500 people have agreed to uproot their lives and start over in a state that offers not only the possibility to spread libertarian ideals, but also a comparative dearth of economic opportunities found elsewhere.

“If we knew the answer to the question on how to get to 20,000 by the end of 2006, we would have done that,” said Free State Project director and president Varrin Swearingen. “It should go without saying no one has done anything like this before, so we’re inventing the wheel. It’s not an easy task.”

Free Staters aren’t obligated to pack their bags until the 20,000 milestone is reached, and anyone who held second thoughts has been allowed to slip out of the pledge, Swearingen said. He emphasized that 2006 wasn’t a target set in stone but rather a loose goal.

The group has reached an important milestone, he said: 1,000 participants have pledged to move to New Hampshire by the end of 2008. And more than 100 pledge signers, including Swearingen, already have moved to the state.

Though Swearingen believes his savings in taxes already has paid for his move from California to Keene, he acknowledges doing so was no small feat.

“There is a significant impediment to moving,” he said. “There are real issues to deal with; it can be tough to start over.”

Many Free Staters probably have hesitated to leave good jobs, friends and family, said Mark Wrighton, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. Those living in the south and west in particular may not want to leave regions where population and economic opportunities are growing, he said.

“You’re asking people to do something against the trend of where the population movement is,” he said. “And it goes against the general trend that people don’t stay in New Hampshire. People tend to leave the state and not come back.”

No every member of the project is a libertarian. They espouse a wide spectrum of causes: gun rights, decriminalization of marijuana and the overriding goal of less government.

Members who already live here have made a difference, Swearingen argues, by lobbying against a measure that would have banned smoking in restaurants and by helping defeat municipal budgets. Participants also wrote and helped pass a bill reducing regulation on homeschoolers. One participant has been elected to the Legislature and several others to town boards of selectmen, planning boards and school boards, he said.

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