Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Commentary

More activists have eye on state
Our View: Libertarians' Free State Project looking around for what it hopes is fertile territory

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Correction (4/10/03): Third-party candidate Ross Perot ran for president in 1992. This editorial misstated the year.

Don't look now, but another group of fringe political opportunists is seriously considering moving to Idaho en masse and co-opting its political machinery.

The Free State Project is smitten by Idaho and Wyoming.

Organizers view the two states as bastions for smaller government and individual liberty -- and a good fit for as many as 20,000 Libertarians who
are yearning to be free of Big Government. Idaho is the favorite among the "bigger" states -- population around 1.2 million -- being viewed as potential migration sites. Wyoming has an edge over New Hampshire among the smaller ones.

Indeed, Idaho is a live-and-let-live state that prefers smaller government. But it won't be an easy touch for an outside band of activists with ulterior motives. The Aryan Nations misjudged Idaho -- and spent a quarter of a century fighting a losing battle with human-rights activists. In Idaho, Free Staters would be squeezed by anti-abortion conservatives, aggressive newspapers, the Republican establishment, and the Mormon church in the south.

They should think again about rating Idaho so high on their list.

At this point, Free State Project has signed up 3,000 activists who are willing to move to a designated state to work to transform government into their image. Once they recruit 5,000, the Free Staters will pick their state.

According to www.freestateproject.com, Idaho ranks high because, among other things, it has a strong predicted job growth. It votes for conservative and Libertarian presidential candidates. It cherishes gun freedom. It has the initiative and referendum process (for working around stubborn legislatures). It's a right-to-work state. And its teachers' union is weak.

The Free State Project, of course, is far more benign than Richard Butler's Aryan Nations. But it's making the same mistake Butler did when he launched his "territorial imperative" -- a whites-only homeland in the Northwest. Butler thought the monocultural region would be fertile ground for his creed. He didn't count on the task force of human-rights activists that fought him until his dream was left in the ruins of his razed compound.

Unquestionably, the Free Staters would find some sympathizers for a political philosophy that mixes extreme fiscal conservatism with social liberalism. In Idaho, third-party candidate Ross Perot, after all, almost edged Democrat Bill Clinton for second place in the 1994 presidential election.

The Free Staters, of course, can move to Idaho or anywhere else. But they might not find a red carpet waiting for them.

"Our View" represents the editorial voice of The Spokesman-Review. It is written by members of the editorial board, who are listed on this page.


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