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NH House in 2 Dimensions

Ideal Points of NH State Legislators in 2 Dimensions (Click to Expand)

The New Hampshire Liberty Alliance does a Liberty Rating each year in which they analyze liberty-related roll-call votes of state representatives and senators and grade them. (The NHLA is a great government accountability organization, by the way, and well worth supporting; a lifetime membership is only $100.)

I used their roll-call votes for the 2014 N.H. House of Representatives but analyzed them differently (I also corrected three errors in their spreadsheet). The vast majority of roll-call votes are on economic issues, where conservative Republicans and libertarians line up. So the Liberty Rating might overstate how libertarian conservative House members really are, if those social issues that are voted on are disproportionately important. The Liberty Rating tries to assess how important each vote is, but the way they do it is arbitrary and subject to dispute (for instance, they rate a bill restricting the sharing of public school student information as highest-priority, on a level with legalizing marijuana and three times as important as a bill enacting occupational licensure of medical technicians). Furthermore, some of their bills are disputably freedom-related: they rated as negative a bill creating a new crime of “domestic violence.” Now, that bill might or might not have been a good idea, but it doesn’t seem like a liberty-related issue, unless you’re an anarchist who wants to legalize everything, including violence.

I used Item Response Theory in a Bayesian framework to estimate the ideal points of legislators in two dimensions. Let me unpack that statement for the layman. I let the data speak for itself. If legislators who generally voted libertarian voted in favor of a bill, the data are telling me that that bill is liberty-enhancing. If legislators who generally vote libertarian split on a bill, then maybe it’s not a liberty issue. Some votes might be “harder” or “easier” than others, like questions on a test. Even a pretty libertarian legislator might vote the wrong way on a hard vote, like a bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide (“Death with Dignity”, HB 1325 in 2014), which failed 219-66.

Using the R package “pscl,” I first hypothesized that all 93 roll-call votes in 2014 reflected a single ideological dimension: each legislator’s degree of libertarian-ness. We could line up all legislators’ ideal points in ideological space along a single line, and that line would be the best way to predict how all the legislators vote on any given issue.

That hypothesis ended up being wrong. On 84 roll-call votes, I couldn’t reject that hypothesis, but on 9, I could. Those were votes on which those voters who tended to vote in a libertarian direction on the other 84 votes tended to vote in an anti-libertarian direction instead – and conversely, those voters who usually voted anti-libertarian actually tended to vote libertarian on those 9 votes.

What were those 9 votes?

  1. HB1237, prohibiting local sex-offender residency restrictions (passed 231-97)
  2. HB1325, Death with Dignity (failed 66-219)
  3. HB1501, mandating licensing of outpatient abortion facilities (killed 211-86) (the NHLA generally stays out of abortion bills, but they believed, and I agree, that business licensing is the wrong way for pro-lifers to restrict abortion)
  4. HB1577, allowing alkaline hydrosis for the disposal of human remains (passed 209-116)
  5. HB1624, modernizing the juvenile justice system (passed 256-40)
  6. HB1625, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana (passed 215-92)
  7. HB249, mandating employer use of E-Verify (killed 266-68)
  8. HB492, legalizing marijuana (passed 170-162)
  9. SB296, discriminating in favor of veterans in public employment (killed 210-128)

What do all these issues have in common? They’re social issues on which libertarians make common cause with the left! And note that apart from Death with Dignity, libertarians won on every one of these bills. Part of that has to do with the fact that socially liberal Democrats were in the majority in 2014, and part of it has to do with the fact that libertarians are numerous enough in the House to swing some close votes, like the legalization of marijuana.

There were also a few votes without a clear libertarian position; in statistical jargon, they didn’t “load” onto the first ideological dimension at all:

  1. SB318, establishing the crime of domestic violence (passed 325-3)
  2. SB336, banning deer baiting on public land (killed 200-85)
  3. SB366, establishing two casinos in New Hampshire (killed 173-172)

Arguably these roll-calls shouldn’t have been included in the Liberty Rating.

So I divided the roll-call votes into two groups: (more…)

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While Republicans nationally enjoyed a wave election, Republican federal candidates in New Hampshire underperformed relative to other states. Scott Brown lost very narrowly to incumbent Jeanne Shaheen, dogged throughout the campaign with the “carpetbagger” label. The highly conservative, hawkish Marilinda Garcia also lost in the second congressional district, my district and the more left-leaning one in the state. The governor’s race was close, but first-term incumbent Maggie Hassan pulled it out. That result was not surprising, since first-term governors in New Hampshire rarely lose (a term is just two years), and her opponent Walt Havenstein had low name recognition and also faced carpetbagging accusations, having just moved back to New Hampshire from Maryland.

At the state legislative level, however, the GOP did much better. They took over the executive council and state house and extended their lead in the senate. Lacking veto-proof majorities, however, they will need to work with Governor Hassan to accomplish anything.

Libertarians did rather well in this election as well. Of the 116 New Hampshire Liberty Alliance-endorsed candidates in this election, 86 won. Not all of those 86 are real libertarians. The NHLA has a mechanistic scoring system for endorsements: as long as you vote 80% pro-liberty on the roll-call votes they track (or for challengers, are 80% pro-liberty in your questionnaire answers), you are endorsed. Since most roll-call votes are economic liberty issues rather than personal liberty issues, traditional conservatives often do extremely well on NHLA ratings. Still, a very sizeable chunk of the next state house – around 20% – will be quite liberty-friendly.

Unfortunately, four very solid libertarian incumbents lost: three by extremely narrow margins and one by a wide margin because of a Republican wave in his district (he is a Democrat). One metric some people are interested in is the number of Free State Project early movers who won races. I can say that the number is more than half of those who made it past their primaries, and a new record. I can also say that this list is both wrong and too short (warning: click link only if you have a strong stomach for paranoia and/or enjoy schadenfreude).

Other interesting stories from the election… There is a rather unhinged (and I don’t use that term lightly) Free Stater hater in Bedford, a wealthy restauranteur and sometime Republican bigshot, who did everything he could to defeat a Republican incumbent state senator, Andy Sanborn, because he was friendly with Free Staters. In the end, Sanborn defeated his opponent by a far wider margin than he had in 2012 (the 2014 was a rematch of the two).

The Dems sent out last-minute mailers to just about every competitive house district (judging from reports), accusing all the Republican candidates of supporting the “ultra-extreme Free State Project.” That didn’t work out too well for them: the GOP has at least 235 seats in the new state house (out of 400), with three ties (yes, ties) still to be resolved.

In a slightly Republican-leaning state senate district that had gone to a Democrat in ’12, an insurgent candidate, Kevin Avard, who spent only about $6000 on the race, upended the incumbent. Avard is a libertarianish conservative, which will make for about three of that breed now in the senate (plus Sanborn and John Reagan).

So what can we expect from the next legislature? The (more…)

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Registration for the next New Hampshire Liberty Forum is now open. It will take place March 5-8, 2015 in Manchester, N.H. Sponsored by the Free State Project, the Forum is an excellent opportunity to find out what is going on in the burgeoning liberty movement in New Hampshire. At this year’s forum, in addition to headliners Patrick Byrne (overstock.com CEO), Jeffrey Tucker (FEE, Liberty.me), and Sheriff Mack, Liberty Forum will feature David Boaz (Cato), Walter Block (Loyola), former Pileite James Otteson (Wake Forest), and friend of Pileus William Ruger (CKI, Texas State). And that’s just the start – I’m helping to put together some of the workshops and panels, and we have some interesting and unusual speakers yet to be confirmed. Like the last PorcFest, this year’s Liberty Forum will focus on interactive events and workshops showcasing what’s happening now in New Hampshire and planning for the future.

This year’s event takes place at a new venue, the Manchester Radisson, which is the largest conference center in the state. We simply outgrew the Nashua Crowne Plaza. Expect 500-700 attendees this year. In some ways, it will feel like a much smaller, more intimate conference because of the breakout sessions and social mixers scattered throughout the schedule.

Hope to see you there!

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The Sunday edition of the New Hampshire Union-Leader featured a front-page, above-the-fold story on the Free State Project after 10 years in New Hampshire. The story gives a good sense of the wide range of activities, interests, and views of FSP participants who’ve moved to the state. A taste:

“I honestly don’t ever advertise it,” Jody Underwood said. “Every Free Stater is completely different. The only thing you would know about me from it is I moved here to be near like-minded people,” she said. “You don’t know anything about me by knowing that. It seems like a weird label to have.”

Underwood, 54, moved from a Philadelphia suburb to a 210-acre Croydon farm in 2007 with her husband Ian Underwood and another liberty-minded couple, Emily and Neil Smith.

The Smiths wanted to live off the grid, and the Underwoods wanted an adventure.

“We feel that life should be lived with principles and not by letting other people telling people what to do,” Underwood said.

Underwood said she immediately knew she had found where she was meant to be.

“I always felt like a fish out of water” before she moved to New Hampshire “because I wasn’t politically-correct.”

Underwood works at home as a research scientist and software designer. She has also started the Bardo Project, a home and farm intern program for adults of all ages.

Bardo is a Tibetan word meaning “between lives,” but on Underwood’s farm it’s about giving people a break between chapters in their lives so they can find new paths.

She cares about education and now heads the town school board.

For much more, check out the full story.

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And there’s real money behind it, with more (hopefully) to come:

As for its goal, here is how Day put it in his news release:

“Crushing debt, unfunded entitlements, the government takeover of healthcare, overregulation, the decaying of our public schools, and massive government intrusion into our private lives are a direct assault on our liberty and individual rights.

“What if we could prove that liberty works? What if we could transform the Republican Party into a party of liberty that embraces the millennial generation? What if we could break the cycle of failed Republican candidates who support the expansion of the welfare state and position the country for a Goldwater/Reagan Republican in 2016?”

The PAC first wants to elect “the first pro-liberty, millennial governor (Andrew Hemingway)” and “win a pro-liberty majority for the Republicans in our 424 person state Legislature.”

Day is chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, which has endorsed 12 GOP candidates for the state Senate, including five who are taking on sitting GOP Senators in primaries. Hemingway is former chair of the RLCNH.

Stark360 proposes “a statewide, data-driven grassroots campaign that will endure beyond 2014 and address a fundamental structural weakness of the Republican Party,” and then “position New Hampshire to elect a Liberty Republican candidate in our crucial 2016 first-in-the-nation primary.”

“New Hampshire is the single best investment to demonstrate and spread liberty throughout the rest of the country through New Hampshire’s critical first-in-the-nation primary status,” said Philips.

“The people of New Hampshire inherently embrace liberty” and in the state, “elected officials are accountable,” he and Day said.

Quoting former Gov. John H. Sununu that, “Iowa picks corn; New Hampshire picks Presidents,” Day said that in recent primaries the state has actually picked “losing presidential candidates.”

“A small, elite group of the New Hampshire Republican establishment, corrupted by D.C. interest groups, has disenfranchised New Hampshire voters, alienated the youth vote, and manipulated party rules for personal advantage. In particular, the treatment of Ron Paul in New Hampshire and the egregious manipulation of the rules aimed at harming Ron Paul delegates in the 2012 Presidential race, needs to end now. Our data-driven grassroots infrastructure will restore the Republican Party back to the liberty loving citizens of New Hampshire and serve as a model for the rest of the nation,” Day said in a statement.

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Are libertarians and classical liberals who move to New Hampshire radical extremist anarchist colonizing subversive treasonous subhuman alien life forms?

There’s been some nasty politics in Bedford, New Hampshire, where a member of the local political establishment has been hurling epithets on his cable access show at two locals of libertarian views who moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project and are trying to get active in local government. There’s also been some sort of mailer or flyer going around attacking these candidates for their civic engagement.

Of course, there are anarchists in the FSP, but as far as I know these two are not anarchists at all. Even if they are, if I were a town resident, I’d like to have one or two hardcore, hard-working anarchists on the council and the school board just to keep the rest of the establishment honest. We live in a world where political leaders can smear you as an anarchist just for trying to find efficiencies in government. Don’t we want someone to turn a hard, skeptical eye toward government programs to make sure they are as lean and efficient as possible?

In other news, the FSP is also being covered again in the New Hampshire Union-Leader. A quote from UNH political scientist Dante Scala:

“I do think they have been part of the debate about the direction of the Republican Party,” Scala said.

Scala said Warden’s estimates about the number of Free Staters elected to the Legislature “sounds reasonable.”

“It’s possible even a small group could have an influence that’s out of proportion to its size if we’re talking about people who are kind of elites; by that I mean people who really want to get involved in political activism in New Hampshire,” Scala said.

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Here’s the latest from the new legislative session, via friends in the legislature…

The New Hampshire House just authoritatively slapped down a bill that would authorize automated license plate readers for police, 250-97. The bill had been reported out of the fairly reliably police-statist Criminal Justice committee with an “ought to pass” recommendation. Just nine Republicans voted in favor of the bill, which goes to show that in NH, civil libertarianism can be just as much a game for elephants as it is for donks. New Hampshire remains the only state in the country to forbid automated license plate readers.

The NH House will also be voting on full cannabis legalization today (watch this space for updates). Unfortunately, Democratic governor Maggie Hassan has promised to veto the bill or any other bill relaxing marijuana penalties in any way.

The NH Supreme Court will shortly hear the appeal of the scholarship tax credit case. The trial court struck down tax credit-funded scholarships for attendance at private religious schools, leaving intact the program for nonreligious private schools. Governor Hassan has weighed in with a brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold the trial court ruling, and has also said she would sign a full repeal of the program.

In other news, some New Hampshire voters are promoting a new constitutional amendment to establish a parliamentary system and abolish the office of governor.

(OK, that last one hasn’t happened yet. But give it time.)

Update: It was a rollercoaster afternoon in the New Hampshire House. The House first voted to adopt the Criminal Justice committee’s “inexpedient to legislate” recommendation on the marijuana legalization bill by a razor-thin margin, 170-168. House rules allow reconsideration of “inexpedient to legislate” and “ought to pass” motions. A motion to reconsider narrowly passed, and two legislators switched votes on the subsequent re-vote on the committee recommendation, resurrecting the bill. After further debate, the House accepted an amendment to the bill and then narrowly passed an “ought to pass” motion, 170-162. A motion to reconsider then failed overwhelmingly. Before going to the Senate, the bill will go to the Ways and Means committee for consideration of its revenue aspects. But it’s official: the New Hampshire House is the first legislative chamber in the United States to approve full marijuana legalization.

Update #2: All 11 Free State Project participants in the N.H. House voted for the bill, providing the margin of victory.

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