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Editorial: NH voters, beware of radical threat on ballot

  • Croydon, N.H., Selectboard Member Ian Underwood listens during a meeting of the Schoolboard, of which his wife Jody Underwood is chair, at the Town Hall on Monday, March 14, 2022. An amendment he proposed to cut the school budget from a proposed $1.79 million to $800,000 passed at the town's annual school meeting on Saturday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Published: 9/10/2022 8:04:07 PM
Modified: 9/10/2022 8:00:11 PM

In 2003, when the Free State Project first declared New Hampshire the promised land, libertarians who answered the call to move to the Live Free or Die state were regarded in some circles as harmless cranks who read Ayn Rand at an early age and never got over it. Twenty years later, only 6,200 out of a projected 20,000 have arrived, but while they may be cranks, the Free Staters have proved to be anything but harmless. They have done a lot of damage already and are trying to further bend state and local government to their radical will.

In the Upper Valley, perhaps the most notable example occurred in Croydon this year, where Ian Underwood — Selectboard member, Free State stalwart and husband of the School Board chairwoman — took advantage of a sparsely attended annual School District meeting to propose cutting the school budget by more than half, a surprise motion that passed by a vote of 20 to 14. Chastened residents of the town, which has a population of 800, mobilized to overwhelmingly overturn the cut at a subsequent meeting, 377 to 2, and have since organized to guard against further such shenanigans. Croydon may have learned its lesson, but many other communities — especially small ones where a sprinkling of Free Staters can wield outsized influence — remain at risk.

The Free Staters have made significant inroads in the Legislature as well. While only about 25 legislators in the 400-member House are known to be Free Staters, they have many allies in the Republican “liberty” caucus, where they have helped to vastly expand school choice at the expense of public education; rolled back permit requirements for carrying firearms; endorsed tax cuts for business; and pushed back aggressively against government public-health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, who moved to New Hampshire from Ohio in 2010 as a Free State immigrant, is an exemplar of such legislators. He was in the news lately when a 2010 post to a libertarian forum resurfaced in which he repeatedly employed a racist epithet to refer to Black people while attempting to equate lynching with child sex abuse as an abhorrent form of behavior.

Osborne’s apology, which noted that he was 33 years old at the time of writing the post, contained the declaration that he would never use such language now and that in the years following that post, he became a new man when he lost weight, stopped drinking and went back to church. This admirable personal transformation did not, however, manifest itself this summer when he urged Americans to celebrate July 4 by laying “off the calories” and grabbing “a few more rounds for your AK-47.” Maybe after another 12 years and many more mass shootings, he will outgrow that sentiment as well.

In Belknap County, a Free State stronghold, efforts by libertarians to privatize the county-owned Gunstock Mountain Resort have been stymied so far by Gov. Chris Sununu, who has called for the ouster of three Republican legislators who exercise an oversight role at the resort. One of the three, Rep. Michael Sylvia, supports having New Hampshire secede from the United States, a goal shared by an estimated 40% of Free Staters.

And New Hampshire Public Radio reported last month that the Free Staters tweeted out a list of churches in the state that they consider “woke” — that is, those who support the LGBTQ+ community, condemn racism and back measures to respond to COVID-19. Apparently while the Free Staters’ cherish the right to be left alone themselves, they do not extend that courtesy to congregations that differ in their views.

New Hampshire has long had a libertarian streak when it comes to limited government and low taxes, but the Free Staters brand is radical. Although rarely articulated, it embraces the fantasy of a future in which individuals are empowered to do exactly what they want to do, when they want to do it, and no one is forced to do anything they don’t want to.

Voters beware. Know who you are voting for, and what they believe. The Free Staters are quietly embarked on a hostile takeover of New Hampshire government for their own ends, which amount to exalting the almighty individual above the needs and aspirations of society at large.


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