Ron Paul's Long Tail: The Free State Project

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 10 2011 11:33 AM

Ron Paul's Long Tail: The Free State Project

In 2003, three years before I started working at Reason, Jesse Walker introduced libertarian readers to the Free State Project.

[Jason] Sorens, alibertarian graduate student at Yale, is the founder of the FreeState Project.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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"Our research so far," the project's web site declares,"indicates that 20,000 activists could heavily influence onlystates with under about 1.5 million population, or which spend lessthan $10 million on political campaigns in any given two-yearelection cycle." Once other considerations -- "coastal access," "adecent job market," "a native culture that's already pro-liberty"-- are taken into account, Sorens says, four potential targetsstand out: Delaware, New Hampshire, Wyoming, and Alaska.

Shortly thereafter, New Hampshire becomes the destination state. And now, in 2011, the national media discovers the Free State Project. Lindsay Boerma:

Libertarian hero  Ron Paul  stands to benefit from a little-known phenomenon stirring in New Hampshire: Fans of hands-off government are migrating en masse to the state where license plates boast the motto "Live Free or Die"—and where, coincidentally, the presidential primary season kicks off.

The FSP took only 10 years (from the original essay to now) to get taken seriously. How'd they do it? The same way the Bolsheviks co-opted the Russian Revolution, or the Tea Party took over state parties -- they organized and beat people who outnumbered them. According to Joey Cresta, only 900 people have confirmed that they moved to New Hampshire as part of the FSP, far below the 20,000-person goal. But those people are obsessed with politics. And in New Hampshire, you can win a seat in the legislature with a few thousand voters. So they arrive in Concord and introduce bills like:

HB 442: To permit the use of medical marijuana.

HB 446: To repeal regulation of occupations including cosmetology, landscape architecture, court reporting, athletic training, family mediation, hunting and fishing guides, massage therapists and hawkers, peddlers and itinerant vendors.

HB 519: To repeal New Hampshire's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap and trade program for controlling carbon dioxide emissions.

HB 569: To establish the domestic union as a valid contract and extend certain rights to parties to a domestic union.

HB 628: To make the touching or viewing with a technological device of a person's breasts or genitals by a government security agent without probable cause a sexual assault.

And here we have an example of the inside-outside game libertarians have played for decades -- one that's only now starting to rack up wins. The FSP was long considered a sideshow, nice if you could do it but not feasible. Groups like Americans for Prosperity had been and have been trying to get Republicans on board with free market legislation. Cut to 2011 and the New Hampshire legislature has a huge Republican majority, with some of its hardest-working members coming from a bookish libertarian movement. AFP wants New Hampshire out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; a Free Stater introduces a bill to do that; the bill passes over a gubernatorial veto. The other Free State priorities? Those might be harder to do.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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