It wasn't just the cheap rent and quiet living that convinced
Justin Somma to move from the suburbs of New York City to the
southwestern corner of New Hampshire last month.
Equally appealing to this libertarian-minded 20-something is his
new state's lack of an income tax or even a motorcycle-helmet law.
Mr. Somma's migration is just the first of many encouraged by the
Free State Project (FSP), which has set out to flood New Hampshire
with 20,000 people bent on shrinking government. This month, FSP
members chose the "Live Free or Die" state as their destination in
an online vote.
They don't lack ambition: Not since the Mormons moved west and
Utopians built communities in the 19th century has a single group
attempted a migration of this scale. Their goal: Use a concentrated
presence to make one of the nation's most fiscally conservative and
small-government minded states even more so.
How many FSP members actually make the move - and how much
influence they exert once they arrive - is far from clear. But few
here are surprised that their state beat out its New England
neighbors and western competitors, given New Hampshire's frugality,
"live and let live" social policies and tradition of local rule.
"The appeal is almost obvious," says B. Thomas Schuman, a
political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. "New
Hampshire has a tradition of low-tax, low-service politics and
government, and their hatred of broad-based taxation is fairly
Birth of an idea, rise of a movement
At first glance, the other northern New England contenders might
seem appealing, too. Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire share the
"live and let live" attitude that puts privacy first in social
policies such as gay rights or abortion, says Dartmouth College
professor Richard Winters.
Yet what libertarian wouldn't prefer a state where legislators
take such pride in their own thrift that they haven't raised their
$100 annual salaries since 1889?
Sure, Wyoming and Idaho residents may mistrust government more
than most New Englanders. But New Hampshire's small size has forced
citizens since the Revolutionary War to work together.
The byproduct is perhaps the nation's most accessible government,
with local rule by town meeting and a 400-person House, the largest
in the country. Plus, as home to the nation's first presidential
primary, New Hampshire offers greater national visibility than any
If those criteria sound too fuzzy, the FSP conducted statistical
regression analysis of each of the 10 nominees - based on factors
such as tax burden, dependence on federal dollars, projected job
growth, and crime rates.
That academic approach isn't surprising for a political movement
born in a Yale graduate student's online journal article. The
author, Jason Sorens, argued "liberty-oriented people" could have
the biggest impact by concentrating in a single state. Once there,
they could work to roll back gun-control laws and drug prohibitions.
His message struck a chord with 4,800 people who've signed on to
relocate to New Hampshire - though only a handful have actually
moved. The group hopes to recruit an additional 15,000 people by
2006, at which point members will have five years in which to
relocate to the state. …