Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias It appears that Gov. Mike Rounds isn�t the only person who sees South Dakota as an ideal place for young people to stake their claims for the future.

A new political movement wants 20,000 �liberty-minded individuals� to pack their bags, uproot their families and move to a lightly populated state.

At first blush, this sounds like something that could be of benefit to demographically-challenged South Dakota � a state whose increasingly aging population watches many of its young people leave each year because of lack of opportunity.

The �liberty-minded individuals� of this new political movement would move to states like South Dakota to do more than seek employment opportunities.

They plan to theoretically get jobs in the nation�s lightly populated states, form grassroots groups, elect their compatriots to office, begin slashing taxes and start dismantling these states� governments.

Leaders of the movement, called the Free State Project, hope to turn one state into a libertarian haven where laws regulating guns, drugs, gambling and prostitution will be eliminated and all state programs except public safety will be abolished.

�We�re interested in taking things that have to do with how you raise your family, how you run your business and how you develop your property out of the hands of the government and putting it back into the hands of the individual,� Free State Vice President Elizabeth McKinstry of Hillsdale, MI said in a recent news report.

Sound far-fetched?

Well, maybe. But consider this: More than 3,100 people have joined the movement since it was launched in September 2001 by Jason Sorens, a 26-year-old Yale political science doctoral candidate. Sorens and most members of the Free State Project consider themselves libertarians, but the group is not affiliated with the National Libertarian Party.

Once the number of registered Free State supporters reaches 5,000, something Sorens expects by early next fall, members will choose one of 10 �candidate� states, which have been selected for their sparse population and �pro-liberty� culture.

The candidate states, in ascending order of population, are Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Idaho, New Hampshire and Maine. Two other small states, Rhode Island and Hawaii, were rejected for being too pro-government.

If 20,000 people join the Free State Movement by September 2006, the group�s self-imposed deadline, a voluntary migration to the selected state will begin. Sorens estimates this will take five years, and by 2011, the group should be able to influence local elections and eventually take control of the state legislature.

�The numbers we hope to get are not enough to be a majority and take over any state, but we believe our ideas of freer markets, lower taxes and smaller government are capable of generating a lot of public support,� Sorens said.

Sorens� group has been compiling state statistics and ranking the candidate states in categories such as voter turnout (smaller is better), potential job growth and dependence on federal aid. The top four scorers in several categories are Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire and Wyoming.

At least we missed that list.

It sounds like Wyoming is the favored place to eventually launch this experiment in social and political engineering.

That state�s population of 500,000 is the smallest in the nation, and the state has the highest percentage of conservative and libertarian voters and the smallest government and lowest taxes of any Western state.

If the project picks New Hampshire, the chair of that state�s Republican Party said the group would probably be very happy with the political activity in the state.

�If these individuals choose to come to New Hampshire they�ll find an atmosphere that�s very open to grassroots activities and very strong and independent voter participation,� New Hampshire GOP Chair Jayne Millerick said.

What are the odds of the Free State Project being successful? Sorens gives his group a 50/50 chance.

One political scientist puts the odds at �zilch.�

�It�s just not a realistic idea. It�s a neat idea and it�s a sign of the deep frustration with third party politics in the United States, but it�s probably doomed from the beginning,� said Steffen Schmidt, political science professor at Iowa State University, Ames.

Schmidt said libertarians stand for individual thought and it seemed unlikely that 20,000 of them are going to �run like lemmings in the same direction.�

Should South Dakota�s future someday be placed in the hands of outsiders who want to do away with laws regulating drugs, prostitution and perhaps other negative element of society?

We hope not. We prefer the positive approach being taken by Gov. Rounds to actively recruit young people to stay in South Dakota by developing meaningful job opportunities.

South Dakota has always been a place that�s warmly welcomed people who want to call our state home.

Despite our problems, most of us like the Sunshine State just fine as it is.

It wouldn�t hurt our feelings if the Free State Project stays away.

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