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Posts Tagged ‘new hampshire’

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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The title is from Fergus Cullen’s latest editorial in the New Hampshire Union-Leader. Here’s a taste:

A dilemma for conservatives is that to advance the cause of limited government, some of them have to join government and pass laws. Ironically, the most active state legislators come from the libertarian wing of the Republican Party.

Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, who was on Ron Paul’s New Hampshire delegate list last year, has filed 21 legislative service requests, or proposals for new laws, more than any other state legislator. Rep. Dan Itse, R-Fremont, a six-term legislator well known for his literal interpretation of the Constitution, is second with 19. Rep. George Lambert, R-Litchfield, another Ron Paul supporter, submitted 17 LSRs, tying him for third with Manchester Rep. Tim O’Flaherty, the most active Democratic bill filer. Privacy watchdog Neal Kurk, R-Weare, is fifth with 13 new bills. Reps. Dan and Carol McGuire, R-Epsom, who are members of the Free State project, combined for 14 proposed bills.

For more, go here.

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  1. Will May has done some really interesting analysis of roll-call voting in the New Hampshire legislature. Recently he did an analysis of where Free Stater legislators fall on the left-right spectrum as revealed by W-NOMINATE data (this procedure places legislators on a dimension of votes as revealed by correlations in voting behavior, not an “objective” standard of liberalism or conservatism) and on the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance’s Liberty Rating(*). What he found revealed that most Free Staters lie solidly to the right. The main interpretation here is that the GOP in N.H. is fairly libertarian, while the Dems are fairly statist. Yet there are subtle deviations as well. Democratic activists picked up on this work to charge Free Staters with voting as a “monolithic bloc.” On a closer look, however, the standard deviation of ideological positions among Free Stater legislators turned out be higher than for non-Free Stater Dems. Oops.
  2. Tonight the Concord City council voted to accept the BEARCAT grant on an 11-4 vote. The lure of federal money is hard to resist. Nevertheless, concerned Concord residents obtained signatures from over 1,500 residents (something like 7-8% of the adult population) in opposition to the BEARCAT. Word is that several city council members justified their votes on the grounds that the grant application had been revised to remove references to the FSP and ONH as “domestic terroris[ts].” However, it’s unclear whether the grant application has actually been so revised, or whether the police chief just claimed it had been. More on this story to follow if anything else emerges.
  3. A few days ago the FSP took the extraordinary step of expunging from its participant rolls a man who blogged that “It’s a terribly unpopular thing to say, but the answer, at some point, is to kill government agents,” and “any level of force necessary for anyone to stop any government agent from furthering said coercion [tax collection in the context of funding the salaries of all government employees] is morally justifiable…” Internet flamewars ensued. Several newbies seemed convinced that the man was expelled for believing in the right to self-defense against government aggression. Of course, murdering government employees is closer to genocide than self-defense, but who’s counting? Oh, Internet macho libertarians, I am glad none of you will ever get a whiff of actual power.

As you can see, there’s never a dull moment here.

(*)Of all the organizations in the country promoting liberty, there are few more worthy of your financial support than the NH Liberty Alliance. I don’t have a formal role in that group, but I do give them money.

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New Hampshire has an abnormally strong regime for the protection of privacy rights. It extends from strong wiretapping laws to laws prohibiting the retention of personal information in government databases against the consent of the individual. While getting my driver’s license in Claremont, N.H. yesterday, I snapped this photo, which got memed by the Free State Project and is now going viral on Facebook:

nh-privacy

Too bad every state doesn’t have the same protections.

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Mother Jones has followed up on the story reported here about the controversy over the city of Concord’s acquisition of a Bearcat armored truck. The Concord police chief has this to say about the language of the grant citing the Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire as potential sources of domestic terrorism:

While the sovereign citizens movement has a history of racism and violence, Police Chief John Duval now says that he doesn’t actually believe the Free State Project or Occupy New Hampshire are domestic terror threats. “I wish I would have worded things different in retrospect,” he says. “I understand why their eyebrows are raised about that.” He chalks up the wording to the limitations of writing a detailed proposal in only three pages and says it was meant to refer to the “unpredictable nature of unpredictable people who attach themselves to otherwise lawful situations.”

Duval has no plans to issue a formal apology, but he has exchanged emails with Carla Gericke, president of the Free State Project, to explain his position, which he has also attempted to clarify with local reporters.

HT: FSP

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  • Concord, NH is about to acquire a Bearcat “tank” with federal grant money, similar to the one that spurred protests from all walks of society in Keene, NH recently. (One Keene councilman looks back and describes the purchase as a “waste of money.”) More disturbing is the fact that the Concord police cited “Free Staters” and “Occupy New Hampshire” as examples of potential domestic “terrorism” justifying the armored truck’s acquisition.
  • The New Hampshire Union-Leader criticizes Chris Christie’s recent attack on Rand Paul and libertarianism: “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has no patience for people who are concerned that the government might be violating their civil liberties in pursuit of increased national security. That is going to make a run through the New Hampshire primary really annoying for him.” The Union-Leader‘s influence on the GOP primary is often overstated (they endorsed Gingrich last time), but they are most effective when in attack mode. Their attacks on Romney helped suppress his vote share well below what was initially expected in the 2012 primary.

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This piece was originally intended as an op-ed for the Union-Leader. However, they did not pick it up. Therefore, I’m running it here.

Why did Republicans do poorly in the last state elections in New Hampshire? There is no shortage of theories, but what has been lacking is any attempt to test those theories on the evidence.

One of the most popular claims, from both Democrats and parts of the Republican establishment, is that the Republican legislature of 2011-12, particularly the state house under Speaker Bill O’Brien, was overly conservative or libertarian. Here’s what former Republican state chair Fergus Cullen had to say in the Union-Leader right after the election (“Will NH Republicans learn the lessons from Tuesday?,” November 8, 2012): “The drag on the ticket was the motley crew of insular Tea Partiers, Free Staters, birthers, Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists, and borderline anarchists calling themselves Libertarians who dominated the Republican majority in the Legislature, led recklessly by soon-to-be ex-Speaker Bill O’Brien.”

Is that true? If it were, then Republican candidates for state house would have done worse than the Romney-Ryan ticket at the top, as some share of voters decided to punish alleged “extremist” state house candidates while still voting for the moderate-conservative Republican presidential ticket. Did that actually happen?

In a word: no. But don’t take my word for it: look at the final data posted by the Secretary of State. Statewide, Republicans received 1,084,642 votes for state house candidates, 51.3% of the total – a majority! By contrast, Romney-Ryan received only 46.4% of the presidential vote in New Hampshire. Gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne won only 42.5% of the vote.

These figures might be misleading, however, because New Hampshire has many multimember and floterial districts, so some voters end up casting more votes than others for state house, depending on where they live. A better approach is to focus on single-member, non-floterial house districts, comparing votes for state house and presidential candidates in just those districts.

When we do this, looking only at the 49 house races statewide in which one Democrat and one Republican competed, we find that GOP candidates received, on average, 44.0% of the two-party state house vote in those districts. In those same districts, the GOP presidential ticket received only 42.9% of the two-party presidential vote.

Thus, Republican state house candidates ran slightly ahead of the presidential ticket, in some cases (more…)

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An interesting new poll from Public Policy Polling shows strong support for marijuana reform in New Hampshire:

For legalization (taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, with licensed stores): 53%. Opposed: 37%.
For decriminalization (replacing criminal penalties for possession of less than an ounce with a fine): 62%. Opposed: 27%.
For medical marijuana (allowing seriously or terminally ill patients to use marijuana if their doctors recommend it): 68%. Opposed: 26%.

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In Canada, provincial parties are totally organizationally independent of federal parties and may not even have the same names. Thus, the British Columbia Liberal Party has generally been right-of-center, and British Columbia Liberals tend to vote Conservative at the federal level. Quebec Liberals have generally been more Quebec-nationalist/decentralist than the federal Liberals. Most provinces have parties named “Progressive Conservative,” even though there is no longer any federal Progressive Conservative Party. And so on.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way in the U.S. State (and even local) elections feature Republican and Democratic candidates, except in Nebraska, where state legislative elections are nonpartisan. As a result, state election results are driven by national trends. Surprisingly, political scientists had not formalized this insight until recently. Here is a paper from Steven Rogers:

State legislative elections are not referendums on state legislators’ own performance but are instead dominated by national politics. Presidential evaluations and the national economy matter much more for state legislators’ elections than state-level economic conditions,  state policy outcomes, or voters’ assessments of the legislature. Previous analyses of  state legislative elections fail to consider which party controls the state legislature and whether voters know this information. When accounting for these factors, I discover that even when the legislature performs well, misinformed voters mistakenly reward the minority party. Thus, while state legislatures wield considerable policy-making power, elections are ineffective in holding state legislative parties accountable for their own performance and lawmaking.

Tyler Cowen calls this “the problem with federalism.” But it isn’t a problem with federalism as such. It’s a problem with U.S. federalism. In Canada, you can’t send a message to the federal government by voting against the incumbent federal party at the provincial level. (In fact, provincial elections are not held on the same days as federal elections.) Changing the perverse accountability dynamic of U.S. state legislatures may require something as simple as changing the names of state parties.

State parties may even have an incentive to do this. For instance, the Republican Party in New Hampshire could change its name to something like “New Hampshire Conservative Party” or “New Hampshire Party.” By doing so, it could help to insulate itself from the partisan swings at the national level that are beyond its control.

In the last election, New Hampshire Republicans lost majorities in the state house and the executive council. The reason for this was the (more…)

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Pileus‘s own Jason Sorens is, among many other things, the founder of the Free State Project. The FSP is an initiative that aims to put the convictions of people who talk about individual liberty to the test. Its proposal is based on the straightforward premise that a relatively small number of committed and organized activists can effect disproportionately large political change in their communities. More specifically, the FSP suggests that if 20,000 “liberty-loving people” were all to move to a state of relatively small population, their concentrated efforts could enlarge the scope of liberty in that state, perhaps even making it a genuine home of liberty.

After a somewhat contentious vote several years ago, the FSP decided that New Hampshire—of “Live Free or Die” fame—would be their liberty mecca. (Wyoming came in second.) If you sign on to the FSP’s initiative, here is what you agree to: If and when the total signatories on the FSP’s pledge reaches 20,000,

I hereby state my solemn intent to move to the state of New Hampshire. Once there, I will exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of life, liberty, and property.

Some people are excited enough about the prospects—and, no doubt, depressed and frustrated enough about the decline of liberty elsewhere—that they are not waiting for the full 20,000 signatories: As of today, 1,117 FSP pledges have already moved to New Hampshire.

Why New Hampshire? Lots of reasons. The FSP actually gives you a list of “101 Reasons You Should Move to New Hampshire (If You Love Liberty).” Here is another reason: In the most recent edition of the “Freedom in the 50 States” report, co-authored by Sorens himself along with William Ruger, and published in 2011, New Hampshire comes out on top: The Granite State ranks #2 in “economic freedom,” #11 in “personal freedom,” and yet #1 in the combined “overall” ranking.

I find the prospects of making New Hampshire the Hong Kong of America intriguing, even inspiring. When the United States is spending itself into debt oblivion—something like the Nicolas Cage character in Leaving Las Vegas, we seem to be thinking that it’s all over anyway so we might as well drink ourselves all the way to death—and when government regulation is pouring out of Washington like the Mississippi over the levees in New Orleans after Katrina, the idea of an island of freedom amid a sea of bleak oppression has its attractions.

Even supposing 20,000 liberty-loving people would move to New Hampshire, however, I have reasons to worry about the likelihood of success of the FSP. Let me list a few here. I preface them by saying that I hope I am wrong about how worrisome they are. I too want a world for my children and grandchildren in which they are not slaves to government debt and regulation.

1. I have heard whispers that in the next edition of Sorens’s and Ruger’s “Freedom in the 50 States,” which I understand is due out in the Spring of 2013, New Hampshire no longer retains its #1 overall ranking—and that it might indeed slip several spots. (Perhaps neither Sorens nor Ruger cares to confirm or disconfirm this now, but I would be happy to have them do so if they wish.)

2. In the recently released Economic Freedom of North America 2012, which includes most of the provinces of Canada along with the States of America, New Hampshire lands in a disappointing sixteenth place, behind Alaska and above North Carolina. The EFNA report scores New Hampshire particularly low (a) on Social Security payments as a percentage of GDP (NH gets a 5.1 out of a possible 10 on this, 10 being highest), (b) on total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP (5.6 out of 10), and (c) on indirect tax revenue as a percentage of GDP (a dismal 3.0 out of 10).

3. CNBC recently published its list of “America’s Top States for Business 2012,” and New Hampshire’s spot is again disappointing: nineteenth—embarrassingly, behind Oregon and ahead of Arkansas.

4. Only today I saw this report from Wired that public buses in many metropolitan systems in America are starting to install listening devices with their surveillance systems, so that they can secretly record private conversations. Which metropolitan systems? You will not be surprised that it includes San Francisco and Baltimore; more surprising, perhaps, are smaller cities like Traverse City, Michigan and Athens, Georgia; but this I found both shocking and disappointing: “Concord, New Hampshire also used part of a $1.2 million economic stimulus grant to install its new video/audio surveillance system on buses.” That is wrong for so many reasons.

I also have more general reasons to doubt the possibility of the FSP’s success that are less directly dependent on having chosen New Hampshire as opposed to any state. Perhaps I will outline them in the future.

In addition to my caution that I hope I am wrong about the chances of FSP’s success in New Hampshire, I would also hasten to add that none of these worries entails that one should not still make the attempt. Even if one is certain of failure, some causes are worth fighting for regardless. If one is not willing to fight for liberty and prosperity, even against depressingly long odds, then what on earth would one fight for? One does what one can. One fights for liberty and against oppression, whatever the odds, leaving the rest in God’s hands.

Can New Hampshire be the place?

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A Nanovictory for Freedom

Just another small — very small — way in which Free Staters are making New Hampshirites’ lives better: a successful bill legalizing nanobreweries was sponsored by a couple of Porcupines in the legislature.

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New Hampshire’s status as a swing state has had several negative consequences for its residents:

  • Its politics have been nationalized, and so the national political mood determines the partisan composition of the winning state legislative candidates.
  • Its residents have to put up with avalanches of political advertising and campaigning by national candidates.
  • There are controversies over voter eligibility. Some Republicans like to tell dark tales of voters being “bussed in” from Massachusetts to cast presidential votes, taking advantage of same-day registration. I don’t buy these claims — extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence — but there has indeed been a serious controversy over whether college students from other states ought to be able to vote in N.H. The only serious argument I can see against their being allowed to vote in N.H. is that they are unfamiliar with the needs and problems of the state and their town and tend therefore to cast less informed votes in N.H. than they could in their home state (absentee). That makes sense to me. When I was a college student, I voted absentee in Houston because I knew the issues, not Virginia where I was going to school. But the courts have said that college students must be allowed to vote in N.H. if they want to. Most of them do want to, because New Hampshire is a swing state.
  • The third-party vote always gets squeezed because of tactical voting.

These problems go away if New Hampshire passes a law requiring New Hampshire’s electoral votes to go to the national popular vote winner. “But New Hampshire would be ignored by the presidential candidates!” Yes — good. I can’t imagine that New Hampshire has meaningfully benefited from presidential candidates’ attention. There’s not a single program or project that I can think of that New Hampshire benefits from because of a presidential promise made to the state’s voters during a general election. New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary already gives it plenty of influence in the presidential selection process, and I don’t suggest giving that up.

The college-student problem, if it is one, goes away if New Hampshire is not a swing state. College students will vote wherever they feel they have a greater stake and better information, which is exactly as it should be. The avalanche of advertising stops, allowing voters to think harder about state and local issues and candidates. People will be more willing to vote sincerely in the presidential election, rather than for the lesser of two evils.

So why not, New Hampshire? You can take yourself off the table as an electoral college prize and regain some sanity and democratic autonomy for your state.

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Here is what my coauthor William Ruger and I wrote about New Hampshire in the 2011 edition of Freedom in the 50 States: Index of Personal and Economic Freedom:

New Hampshire is by our count the freest state in the country. Depending on weights, however, it really shares the slot with South Dakota. New Hampshire does much better on economic than personal freedom and on fiscal than regulatory policy. Under unified Democratic control in 2007-8, the state saw a respectable increase in freedom. A smoking ban was enacted, but so were same-sex civil unions. Taxes, spending, and fiscal decentralization remain over a standard deviation better than average, and government debt actually went down slightly.

We are going to write something very different in the 2013 edition, coming out early next year. The 2009-10 legislature, also under unified Democratic control, went on a spending and tax-hiking binge. They did this even as states like North and South Dakota were already strengthening market-friendly policies in many areas. As a result, New Hampshire will no longer be the freest state in the country — not by a long shot.

In fiscal year (FY) 2000, New Hampshire’s state and local tax burden (excluding motor fuel, severance, alcohol, and tobacco taxes) stood at 7.5% of personal income, not only the best in the country but only seriously approached by Tennessee. Government consumption and subsidies made up only 7.3% of personal income. By the end of FY 2006, with Republicans having controlled the legislature in the interim, those figures had edged up, to 7.9% and 8.1%, respectively. But by the end of FY 2010, government consumption and subsidies made up 9.1% of income, a nearly two-percentage-point increase over a decade, while the tax burden stood at 8.0% of income. State and local debt was at 18.8% of income, compared to 16.7% a decade earlier.

In the mean time, Alabama, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee have all passed New Hampshire for lower taxes. We don’t yet have the local data to measure whether FY 2012 saw a return to public thrift under the new Republican legislature elected in November 2010, but when New Hampshire voters go to the polls Tuesday, they should remember where their state was two years ago.

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The New Hampshire House and Senate have overwhelmingly approved a bill that would give businesses tax credits for contributing to scholarship funds, which could make payments on behalf of students attending private schools. Even if the governor vetoes, the bill should pass into law. According to the Ruger-Sorens database of state policies, New Hampshire will join Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania in offering tax credit or deduction programs for private education.

(Nota bene: The New Hampshire Supreme Court has previously ruled that giving tax relief to parents for sending children to religious schools would violate the establishment clause of the state constitution. Thus, this sort of program is the only way that full school choice that includes religious schools can be enacted in New Hampshire.)

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The New Hampshire House, dominated 3-to-1 by Republicans, has just voted by an approximately 2-to-1 majority to kill a bill that would have repealed same-sex marriage and reinstate civil unions. Along with passage of marijuana decriminalization (by a single vote), this vote helps to demonstrate the increasingly libertarian, live-and-let-live character of the New Hampshire GOP.(*)

Meanwhile, the NH Senate just passed a bill to give businesses tax credits for funding private and out-of-district public school scholarships.

(*) I am of two minds on same-sex marriage. I support it on a personal level, as I do not see any good reason for government or anyone else to discriminate against same-sex couples. At the same time, I recognize that some people have deeply held religious objections to same-sex unions and object to having their tax dollars pay for government endorsement of these unions. For that reason, I favor getting government out of marriage licensing altogether.

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Here is a convenient, occasionally updated source on liberty-related legislation that has been enacted into law in New Hampshire this session. There have been a number of changes since the Republican sweep in 2010, some of them despite vetoes from the populist Democratic governor. Most of these changes are minor, but the cumulative effect of the spending and tax cuts, in particular, will be significant.

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I’ve recently returned from the New Hampshire Liberty Forum, held February 23-26 in Nashua, NH and sponsored by the Free State Project. The two evening keynote speakers were libertarian free-range farmer Joel Salatin and investor and recent U.S. Senate candidate Peter Schiff. In addition, session speakers included school-choice economist Angela Dills, former Libertarian Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Ken Krawchuk, jailed marijuana activist Marc Emery’s wife Jodie, economist John Lott, Institute for Justice litigator Clark Neily, libertarian-anarchist feminist Sharon Presley, and Laissez-Faire Books publisher and former Mises.org editor Jeffrey Tucker.

Unfortunately, I had to help take care of a sick child, and I missed most of the talks, including Joel Salatin’s Saturday-night address. However, I did get to hear Jodie Emery, Ken Krawchuk, and Peter Schiff, and, perhaps more importantly, to catch up with many New Hampshire friends. The event received a good bit of local press coverage. Some examples:

Wire NH:

Events like this and their annual summer Porcupine Freedom Festival not only serve to promote the Libertarian mindset, but also create conversation that Free State Project president Carla Gericke says is of the utmost importance to the group’s goals.

“We are striving to live as free as possible,” Gericke said. “With freedom comes great responsibility. Sometimes, when I think about the movement, it’s almost like a form of localization on steroids.”

Gericke believes the Free State Project is attractive to people because the idea of collecting Libertarians to make a difference in government is a practical one. She added that, since her election as Free State Project president in 2011—three years after her own move to New Hampshire—she has been less focused on getting signatures on the statement of intent.

“Some of my focus has actually moved toward attracting people to move,” she said. “It’s great that they signed the pledge, but in terms of things on the ground, the more bodies we have here, the more we can actually accomplish.”

Nashua Telegraph:

The forum, in its fifth year, is the annual meeting for the New Hampshire Free State Project. Free Staters already living in New Hampshire and those thinking about moving here make up most of the participants, but everyone is invited, said Chris Lawless, a Hopkinton resident and the Free State Project’s forum organizer.

“We want people to come meet us, see we don’t have horns growing out of our heads,” Lawless said.

Nashua Telegraph #2:

Freedom to live as one chooses is a powerful ideal, and a conference exploring the concept was worth the drive from New Jersey for Marcus Connor, 37.

“Liberty is dying every day in the United States,” Connor said.

The government is killing it, he said.

That view was espoused in speeches throughout the morning. It was the drumbeat that would sound throughout the various programs of the forum.

One of the day’s first speakers, John Bush, talked of the need to abandon the U.S. Constitution, which he said was written to protect the interests of the nation’s founding fathers, who were “the privileged elite at the time.”

Bush represented Agora 21, described as “a counter-economic approach to building a free society in the 21st century.”

Bush acknowledged the Constitution marked civilization’s best achievement toward limiting government, but added, “I think we can do better. I think we can do much better.”

Patch.com:

Keynote speaker Friday is economist Peter Schiff, CEO of Connecticut-based Euro Pacific Capital Inc., who will talk about the current economic business cycle (a sham), what mistakes have been made (too many to count), what to expect next (something worse than the last collapse), and what you can do to prepare (buy gold, vote for Ron Paul, invest in foreign currency).

As you may have guessed, if you’re looking for someone to paint a rosy picture of the country’s gradual economic recovery since 2008, Schiff is not your guy.

“The future is bleak,” said Schiff in a recent phone interview with Nashua Patch.

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The NH House passed a resolution today condemning the White House for its infamous contraception rule.  The NH Journal notes that this was a national first:  “The New Hampshire House of Representatives has thus become the first elected body in America to officially vote to condemn the ruling.”  Although without teeth, this move is still nice to see.  Here is the story:

The Republican-dominated state House of Representatives overwhelming voted Wednesday to condemn the Obama administration’s controversial rule requiring religiously-affiliated institutions to offer health coverage that includes “free” access to contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. The House’s Resolution 29 passed with a vote of 227-121.  [snip]

“House Resolution 29 is not about the merits of contraception,” said House Speaker William O’Brien. It is not about whether insurers choose to offer coverage for these services in their policies. It also is not about the Catholic Church’s policies on contraception, sterilization or any other of its teachings or beliefs. Rather, HR 29 stands up for our religious institutions that have long-held principles and teachings under assault by a president and his ideology that seeks not merely to reject, but to tear down our liberties.”

“House leadership introduced House Resolution 29 to defend New Hampshire’s long and proud history of religious tolerance, while pushing back against the deeply flawed law known as ObamaCare,” added House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt. “The new mandate from the Obama administration requiring religious organizations to offer insurance coverage for practices that go against the teachings and tenets of their faith is an unnecessary, cynical and unconstitutional attack on religious institutions. To those who say HR29 detracts from this legislature’s focus on New Hampshire’s economy, let us remind them this issue highlights a critical issue facing our economy, the effect of mandates on the cost of health insurance.”

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That’s from the lede of a new story in Mother Jones about the Free State Project, entitled “City on a Quill.” Mother Jones is definitely coming from the left, but the story is meritoriously free of those lazy, paranoid arguments ad Kochum that we’ve seen about Free Staters from The Nation (no, I’m not going to provide a link, they don’t deserve it). The Mother Jones story doesn’t appear to be online yet. With just a touch of ironic deprecation, the story elaborates accurately the main factional divide among libertarian activists in New Hampshire, between civil-disobedience activists mainly living in Keene and political activists spread throughout the state:

In recent years, Keene residents have been cited for violating the city’s open-container law (during a city council meeting), for indecent exposure and firearms possession (simultaneously), and for smoking marijuana (inside a police station). These incidents share a common root: They were orchestrated by members of the Free State Project–a plan, hatched in 2001, to get 20,000 libertarian activists to quit their jobs, sell their homes, and relocate to New Hampshire en masse.

The reporter also interviewed Free Staters who’d been elected to the legislature:

Dan and Carol McGuire relocated to New Hampshire from Washington state in 2005… Political novices, they both won seats in the House of Representatives (Carol in 2008, Dan in 2010).

They’ve taken different approaches to fighting tyranny. Carol’s goal for the 2011 session was culling anachronistic laws that have remained on the books through bureaucratic neglect. She succeeded in axing an 1895 statute, the result of lobbying by Big Butter, that requires margarine to be served in triangular containers so that diners don’t confuse it with the real thing. Dan had his sights on something of potentially much greater consequence. He and a few allies succeeded in passing a bill to eliminate the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, which is planning a high-speed line to Massachusetts. Their argument was simple: Government shouldn’t be in the business of building railroads. The state’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, vetoed the bill.

After summing up the disagreements among Free Staters on strategy and end goals (no government versus limited government), reporter Tim Murphy concludes: “And therein lies the problem with attempting to create a libertarian utopia: No one–least of all libertarians–can agree on what it looks like.” You might say that’s a problem for any effort to create a utopia.

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I was recently interviewed for a National Journal story, which has just come out, on how the Free State Project may influence the 2012 presidential primary. Pileus also gets a link!

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Free Staters continue to blow minds in the New Hampshire legislature, now with a bill that would define the new pat-down regime at airports as sexual assault. Video story here, text here.

An update on that Approval Voting bill: it was killed by the House in a fairly lopsided vote. The sponsors pledge to try again in the next session.

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A bill to adopt approval voting has been filed in the N.H. House, and one of the co-sponsors is a member of the relevant committee. The bill would establish approval voting for all state offices and presidential primaries. Approval voting is an electoral system for single-winner elections that allows voters to cast not more than one vote for as many candidates as they like and selects the top vote-getter. Steven Brams and other political scientists have endorsed the system as an alternative to plurality rule (or “first-past-the-post”) because a) approval voting is more likely than plurality to select a Condorcet winner when there is one, b) approval voting tends to favor candidates with even temperament and broad ideological appeal, and c) approval voting is more likely than plurality to permit victories by independent and third-party candidates. (However, approval voting is much less likely to ensure representation for political minorities than is a multi-winner, proportional electoral system.) I see approval voting as a good option for inevitably single-winner elections like gubernatorial races and possibly also when it is desirable to keep districts very small and “close to home,” as the massive N.H. House of Representatives does. However, the N.H. Senate has highly artificial districts, and statewide party-list proportional representation seems like a more logical system for that body. Nevertheless, all efforts at bringing electoral reform to the fore of debate are to be welcomed.

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Here is a quick summation of last night’s results in state races in New Hampshire.

The moderate-to-conservative Democratic governor, John Lynch, won re-election by about a 6-point margin, down from something like a 45-point margin in 2008. The state senate now has a veto-proof Republican majority, overturning the previous Democratic majority. (As of this writing, Republicans are ahead in 21 of 24 senate races, but other sources say they’ll probably end up with 19 when all votes are counted.) The executive council, a unique New Hampshire institution, is now 5-0 in favor of Republicans. The Republicans have also won a veto-proof majority in the state house, but estimates vary widely from 250-300 seats when all’s said and done. I’ve compiled a list of 15 Free State Project participants and friends who won election to the state house. One FSP participant, a friend of mine and the only incumbent libertarian Democrat in the legislature, lost – but he came in first out of eight Democrats in his district. The broader libertarian Republican caucus in the state house looks to be at about 10% of the state house, 40 members. One “Ron Paul Republican” won election to the state senate, along with another libertarian-leaning Republican.

What this means in practice is that New Hampshire should improve on fiscal policies, with the legislature making better efforts to cut spending in order to deal with the outstanding budget issues. Hopefully, they will also decide to repeal the new, unpopular “LLC tax.” The future of marijuana policy is in some doubt, as NH Republicans have in the past been more restrictionist on the issue. The governor vetoed or threatened to veto medical marijuana and marijuana decriminalization bills that passed the legislature last session. However, if the new class of Republicans can be effectively lobbied on the issue, they have the numbers to override another Lynch veto. The final area of concern would be same-sex marriage. NH has so far been the only state to pass same-sex marriage through the legislative process, after having legislated civil unions in 2007. Most statewide Republican candidates committed to repealing same-sex marriage. Now that the Republicans have veto-proof majorities in the legislature, they might act on this issue. On the other hand, it might be a unique moment to get the libertarian option of removing the state from licensing marriages altogether on the table for serious discussion. I have to believe that GOP leaders don’t really want to get involved in bruising wrangles over these social issues with 2012 just around the corner.

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Tomorrow my current and future states of residence are holding primaries. In New York the Republican gubernatorial contest has generated quite a lot of controversy, even though the nominee is likely to lose to Andrew Cuomo, while I’ve heard almost nothing about the special senatorial contest, even though that nominee has a fair shot at unseating Kirsten Gillibrand. (There’s also a regular senatorial election that incumbent Chuck Schumer is a shoo-in to win, but the special election for the other seat should be much closer.) The top two Republican candidates for governor are downstate politician Rick Lazio, who lost to Hillary Clinton a few years ago, and Western New York developer Carl Paladino, who has tried to assume the “Tea Party” label. Paladino, however, is no libertarian, arguing for the use of eminent domain to stop the Park 51 mosque and for state-provided (voluntary) collective housing for welfare recipients. Recently he has been cosying up to the political establishment, causing even Tea Party types to despair of him. The Libertarians will run a candidate in the general election. Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo has made some noises about budget and labor law reform, but my default rule is always to vote against attorneys general. In the Republican senate campaign, economist David Malpass seems like the least bad option from a libertarian point of view.

(more…)

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In a recent series of posts (finale here), I estimated the size of the liberty constituency in each state by conducting a principal components analysis of four variables: per capita donors to the Ron Paul campaign, unexplained Ron Paul primary vote share, mean Libertarian Party presidential vote share 1996-2004, and Libertarian Party presidential vote share in 2008. Then, I regressed estimates of individual freedom from the Ruger-Sorens Index on the estimate of liberty constituency size, finding that states with larger liberty constituencies have more freedom.

Some conversations have raised the possibility of using these regression results to predict the effect of the Free State Project (see an exchange with Patri Friedman here). The idea is that I could plug in hypothetical values for New Hampshire on all the four variables above, assuming that they get 2,000, 5,000, or 10,000 more libertarian activists. In other words, given my estimate of the effect of the size of the liberty constituency on freedom, what would be expected to happen to freedom in NH if the liberty constituency in that state grew?

To do this, I first added 2000 Ron Paul donors and Libertarian Party voters to the state, along with 4000 Ron Paul voters. (Why? Because elsewhere I’ve found that each additional Free Stater in a New Hampshire town generated two additional votes for Ron Paul. Now, of course, there probably won’t be another Ron Paul campaign, but there will be other ways in which libertarian constituencies evince themselves – remember, I’m just trying to get a reliable measure of the size of the liberty bloc; the inputs as such don’t matter.) Then I figured out how that would change the estimate of the size of the libertarian bloc in New Hampshire. The aggressive assumption behind this move is worth noting. In particular, I’m assuming that the overall ideological distribution in NH on the libertarian-populist dimension shifts as a result of these activists. In other words, the overall relationship behind number of activists and size of liberty constituency remains constant – the liberty activists don’t just become an ideological ghetto. Presumably, it will take some time for activists moving into the state to have an effect on the mindset of the people already there, so the estimates I’m giving here are for a fairly optimistic, long-run-ish view of what the FSP can accomplish. (On the other hand, I’m assuming that the state remains fairly liberal on the left-right spectrum, which might be a pessimistic assumption.)

Now that I have a hypothetical value for New Hampshire’s future liberty constituency, I can plug that into the regression equation to see what value of freedom pops out, assuming that New Hampshire remains the same on every other variable. I do this by running 1000 simulations of the freedom regression, so that I can pull out a margin of error. When I do this, I find that New Hampshire’s expected freedom value increases by 0.37 on 0-1 scale, with a 95% confidence interval of 0.017-0.685. OK, what do those numbers mean? Well, that’s roughly the difference between New Hampshire and Nebraska today, or between Nebraska and New Jersey. That’s still pretty abstract, though.

To get a more concrete sense of what that means, I played around with the state policy data to see what changes would correspond to that kind of increase in freedom. I cut state and local spending by 3% of personal income (from 17.3%) and state and local taxes by 1.5% of personal income, from 8.4% (these don’t match up, because federal grants cover roughly half of state spending). Then I cut government employment by 2% of the workforce, from 10.8%. Then I gave New Hampshire Alaska’s gun laws (concealed carry without a permit and removal of some other minor regulations). Then I completely privatized wine and liquor and cut beer taxes to zero. Then I completely legalized marijuana possession, legalized cultivation and sale of medical marijuana, and decriminalized cultivation and sale for recreational use. (No state is actually this good.) Then I completely deregulated homeschooling: no testing, recordkeeping, or even notice required. (No state is actually this good.) Finally, I gave New Hampshire same-sex marriage, because, well, it already has that – but it got it after our data came out. That got New Hampshire up to the expected level of freedom after having had 2000 activists move in.

Now, there is a good bit of uncertainty about this estimate. It could be that these 2000 activists will have a much bigger or much smaller effect on freedom. The bottom end of the 95% confidence interval corresponds to just same-sex marriage, the gun law change, and medical marijuana. Not a huge deal. The upper end corresponds to everything mentioned, plus adding right-to-work, adopting the best existing occupational licensing regime in the country (Indiana’s, just 20% of the workforce licensed, compared to NH’s 23%), reducing victimless crime arrests by about 50%, to Hawaii’s levels, repealing all smoking bans on private property, abolishing cigarette taxes, legalizing prostitution, abolishing all campaign finance regulations, and cutting state and local debt burden by about a half. By that point, New Hampshire starts to look like a mix of Amsterdam and Alaska on personal freedoms and Hong Kong on economic freedom.

What about if 10,000 activists move to NH? Well, the freedom regression model doesn’t build in diminishing returns, so the simulations yield a predicted change in freedom of 1.46, roughly five times that predicted for 2,000 activists, unsurprisingly. At that point, we’re talking about cutting government to the bone, including tax and spending reductions of 50% or more and abolishing all of the remaining petty, paternalistic restrictions on freedom that we code, from gambling laws to sobriety checkpoints, legalizing assisted suicide, and completely deregulating education, complete with a strong tax credit-based school choice program, in addition to everything previously mentioned.

But at this point we are so far outside the range of observed politics that I strongly caution against taking these inferences all that seriously. It is possible to push a regression model much further than it can bear. I simply wish to get a sense of the orders of magnitude of change that might be possible with the FSP’s success.

In conclusion, it appears that with 2,000 activists who are smart about educating the general voting public and do not isolate themselves, the long-term gains to freedom in New Hampshire could be fairly extensive, though not approaching what anyone would describe as a “libertarian utopia.” It’s at about 4,000 effective libertarian activists that we could reasonably expect NH to start to look like the Amsterdam/Alaska/Hong Kong hybrid.

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I just returned from the seventh annual Porcupine Freedom Festival in Lancaster, N.H. (see the Daily Caller profile here). PorcFest is the annual summer event of the Free State Project (the New Hampshire Liberty Forum is the FSP’s winter event). Unlike the Liberty Forum, the emphasis at PorcFest is on community building and socializing rather than speakers and formal discussions, but there are a few speakers every year. This year, Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and founder of the Our America Initiative, was the concluding speaker. For the anti-political anarchists, there were also speakers like podcaster-author Stefan Molyneux and tax rebel Larken Rose. Radio host Ernie Hancock, who invented the “Ron Paul Revolution” logo, was also there.

PorcFest 2010 ComicThere’s a good bit of speculation around Gary Johnson as the possible “Ron Paul of 2012.” A libertarian-leaning Republican, Johnson vetoed 750 bills as governor (not counting line-item vetoes), never raised taxes, favors withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, and advocates the legalization of marijuana. Unfortunately, his name recognition in the general population is very low, and he hasn’t cultivated as many constituencies as Paul, such as the John Birch Society. However, he does not suffer from some of the drawbacks that Paul did, such as the quirky advocacy of the gold standard and the “blowback” theory of 9/11 that gave him such trouble in the debates. (For what it’s worth, I agree with both Paul’s position that the government should withdraw more or less entirely from currency and banking markets and the argument that U.S. foreign policy was one of the causes of bin Laden’s attacks on the U.S.) As a speaker, Johnson might not be considered “dynamic,” but he is more direct and to-the-point than Paul, who tends to wax philosophical (not that there’s anything wrong with that). His personality is easy-going and straightforward, unlike most politicians I’ve met, who as a class lean rather toward “blowhard.”

I also spoke with a reporter from The New Republic, who asked me mostly about Johnson’s fanbase in the libertarian campoutgroup and chances in New Hampshire should he decide to run in 2012. If Johnson were to run, I think he would enjoy near-unanimous support among Free Staters who engage the political process, just as Paul did. Now, Paul has been around a lot longer, and it’s difficult to imagine that Johnson would enjoy quite the sheer enthusiasm and cult following that Paul did – but with Ron Paul’s blessing and full-throated support, he should be able to do just as well in raising money. If, as I suspect, he also does better among mainstream Republicans, he could do pretty well in terms of vote share. He has two terms of executive experience, unlike Paul and many other potential candidates for the nomination, and the party should be in a relatively libertarian mood by then. Tea Party types are politically homeless right now; while they tend to support either Sarah Palin or Ron Paul, there’s also a consensus among conservatives that neither of these would be an effective candidate in the general election. Johnson could expect to receive vociferous attacks from neoconservatives and hawks in general, but my sense is that their standing in the Republican base has declined. By 2012, Afghanistan and Iraq will be firmly Obama’s wars, and if both wars are still ongoing then (a fairly good bet), then many more libertarians who initially supported Afghanistan (like myself), will turn quite a bit more skeptical.

Turning to the title of this post, I’ll mention a few things about the state of play in New Hampshire. By reports that I’ve gotten, 27 or 2821-28 Free Staters are running for state office this year, including the four who won last time. (By “Free Staters” I’m referring purely to people who have moved to New Hampshire from elsewhere; there are many more local allies in and seeking office.) Most of them are running as Republicans, but several as Democrats. The feeling among most political observers is that Republicans are favored to take back both houses of the legislature. The conservative Democratic governor, John Lynch, is also looking vulnerable for the first time since his election in 2004. Republican candidate Jack Kimball (one of several) gave a short speech at PorcFest; he seems to be a down-the-line conservative, but the issues he emphasized were 10th Amendment state sovereignty and strong support for the 2nd Amendment. Lynch has also been primaried by a very strongly liberal representative, Tim Robertson (several people of sober mind have characterized Robertson as “virtually a communist”), who is upset at Lynch’s veto of medical marijuana. Robertson has no chance in the primary, but his candidacy points up the cracks in the NH Dems’ base.

One interesting story cropped up on the newswires this past week that relates in more ways than one to the FSP. A husband and wife who are Houston Libertarian Party activists were harassed by police, in part because of a pill that dropped onto the seat (a prescription medication). In most states, you can be prosecuted for having any prescription medicine outside its original container unless a registered physician or nurse put it there (including those pill boxes!), and in some states it’s a felony. The linked story reports that the victims are considering moving to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project. It turns out that this plan of theirs would make sense for more reasons than one. Representative Joel Winters, who moved from Florida, authored a bill that removed such penalties in New Hampshire, and it was passed by the legislature and signed into law. Just one example among many of policy changes that have happened in New Hampshire due to the work of Free Staters…

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