They volunteer at food pantries and sled-dog races. They exhibit negative and disruptive behavior.
Those are the competing impressions among some Granite State residents when it comes to members of the Free State Project, the so-called “liberty-minded” group that recently announced success in encouraging 20,000 people from around the country to move to New Hampshire to further their agenda of less government and more personal freedom.
Here’s how founder Jason Sorens described the origins of the movement on The Exchange this week: “The whole idea was to get Libertarians from around the country signed up and agree to move to a state that we chose and get active there to create a freer society.”
Carla Gericke, former Free State Project president and current board member, said the behavior of some FSP members– such as the Free Keene group that gained national attention for filming parking meter attendants in ways that some considered aggressive -- represents a very small minority.
“For every time we hear one of those shocking stories, there are a hundred great things happening by productive people in the state, ” she said.
MIXED REVIEWS IN THE LEGISLATURE
Democratic State Representative Dan Eaton, of Stoddard, said he has worked closely with some FSP members on certain issues, including increasing access to Narcan, the overdose reversal drug: “It was one of the Free State members who brought the bill forward. She worked her tail off and gets kudos for everything she did,” he said. “But she had to bring in the mainstream to get there.”
Gericke said Free Staters have sometimes helped break political gridlock. “Having a group of people who are in the legislature looking at these issues from a liberty perspective is a good thing,” she said.
But Eaton took issue with that idea, calling them too often obstructionist.
“I frankly resent them taking credit for medical marijuana or same-sex marriage, which have been worked on by people of both parties for years. And the impact of any member of the Free State Project was marginal and late coming.
And when it comes to lean government – a prime goal of the FSP -- NH takes a back seat to no state, he said: “We’ve always run a threadbare budget. We don’t throw money around. We’re very, very cautious.”
Drew Cline, former editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and communications consultant in Bedford, said that the group has suffered some negative publicity as a result of some of the uncivil tactics of a very small group of Free Staters.
But, he said, the Free State Movement can take credit for bolstering some important causes in New Hampshire. Gericke, he said, won a major federal civil rights case affecting the entire region, establishing the right of an individual to videotape a police officer in the line of duty. “That was a huge case,” he said. “That was a huge legal victory that would not have happened without a Free State Project member.”
The full conversation about The Free State Project and its impact on the state can be found here.