For liberty-minded reps, House agenda is proof N.H. needs Free Staters

Last modified: 3/7/2015 1:01:19 AM
A North Carolina man on the second floor of the Legislative Office Building is furious. He had just finished a tour of the State House – the first event on the NH Liberty Forum’s calendar – when he learned the House this week passed a bill banning minors from using tanning beds.

“I didn’t know I was going to walk in here today and learn that’s where their priorities are set,” he roared, calling the vote “absurd.”

For the 500 or more attendees of the Free State Project’s forum this weekend, many of whom came from out of state and are considering moving to New Hampshire, a vote to prohibit personal freedom runs contrary to their ideals.

That fact wasn’t lost on Rep. Dan Itse, a Fremont Republican who led the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance-sponsored tour. He said they have good reason to be mad.

“I want them to be upset that this is happening, because I want them to put in a group of Republicans that are more true to the platform,” he said.

Itse and Rep. John Burt, a Goffstown Republican, led a group of about 20 through the halls of the State House on Thursday, noting freedom-minded tidbits such as the fact that they could again carry guns on the House floor and pointing residents to the secretary of state’s office, where they could grab their free – or already paid for through taxes – copies of the Constitution.

Itse said the same tanning bill died last year in a House controlled by Democrats and condemned current Republican leadership for letting “the Democrat agenda” pass. The Republican leadership team in the House, he said, blindly follows the vote of the committee. “Whatever the committee comes out with, they endorse,” he said. House Bill 136 passed 199-162 Wednesday after being recommended by the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee.

The NH Liberty Forum is a weekend-long event with dozens of talks focused on small government, aiming to promote the Free State Project’s goal of getting 20,000 liberty-minded people to move to New Hampshire. About 16,500 have signed a pledge to do so. New Hampshire was chosen as the destination because it – as the land of no sales tax, no income tax, and no seatbelt or helmet laws – more closely aligned to liberty ideals than any other state.

Itse and Burt call themselves “pre-staters,” in that they’ve been backing the liberty cause in New Hampshire since before the Free State Project existed. Itse acknowledged that it’s a problem for people considering moving to the state with the Free State Project to arrive this weekend to news like the vote to ban teenage tanning, but he believes they’re the solution.

“The way you sell it is, ‘We need your help,’ ” he said. “When it comes to the Free State Project, I have a word for Free Staters: reinforcements.”

Aside from legislation, the group touring the State House could serve as reinforcements in another way – replacing youth leaving the state. Mark Warden, an early mover and two-term state representative, helps prospective movers find new homes with his business, Porcupine Real Estate, which pays homage to the Free State Project’s mascot. He said his clients run the gamut, but many of them are young, educated, often involved in technology and likely to be entrepreneurs.

In that way, he said, “The Free State Project is the answer” to young people leaving the state. As compared with state averages, the group appeared younger, more male and more likely to be wearing slim-legged pants. “They just want to be left alone, they’re not asking for handouts, so it’s a net benefit for the economy,” he said.

Rui Loura, a Brookline software developer, said he left Silicon Valley because the cost of living was so high. But he doesn’t see why New Hampshire can’t be a hub for technology. “I wish we could foster more of that in New Hampshire,” he said.

He didn’t move for the Free State Project, he said, but agreed with many of the benefits it cites: the high quality of life, low crime, good education and limited gun laws. “This is the last part of America where the real American dream lives,” he said. “I hope we can save that.”

For the North Carolina man, a 30-year-old who declined to give his name for privacy reasons, the tanning bed vote wasn’t a good signal. He said it would hurt those businesses and further alienate young people.

But for Itse, it’s just a matter of getting backup from the Free Staters.

“The beauty of New Hampshire, compared to getting elected in any other state – it’s inexpensive,” he said.

The eighth-term rep said when he arrived in the Legislature in 2001, there were about 60 representatives who would “vote liberty.” Now, he said, there’s between 120 and 150. He said residents in other districts, too, are clamoring for candidates looking to institute “a fully functioning, strict constitutional republic.”

“That’s my vision,” he said.

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