The 'Live Free Or Die' Lie: Why I Chose Political Exile in Vermont

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November 6, 2006

Free State Projecters are no doubt amazed at my impudence: A self-styled libertarian who conscientiously chose to leave New Hampshire for greener pastures in the Green Mountains . Granted, at the time of my emigration, in 2002, a dozen U.S. states were still under consideration by the FSP as the target of their endeavors -- and Vermont was one of them. Not that there was ever much chance, mind you: It was always my feeling that the FSP organizers never gave VT a fair shake. Be that as it may, many Liberty Seekers would still call my action irrational, if not out-and-out crazy. They may be correct about the latter, but surely not the former. This aims to explore how and why. But first, a bit of background is in order.

For those reading this who are not from or have never lived in New England , we have a kind of strange political axiom going on here. I call it a truism. To wit, that New Hampshire , with its infamous 1809 General John Stark "Live Free Or Die" motto, automatically and without question trumps all five other States in the region as a bastion of small government, low taxes, and individual liberty. This, to put it politely, is a thin patina of redolent cow manure. However, in the spirit of remaining polite, let's examine the major points which have earned the Granite State its dubious reputation:

* There is no broad-based income tax (note I say "broadbased"; there are still corporate income taxes, and capital gains taxes).

* There is no broad-based sales tax (again, note I say "broadbased"; there is still a tax imposed on vehicle rentals, and one on motor oil purchases, of all things).

* There is no seat-belt law (for anyone over the age of 12, that is).

* There is no motorcycle helmet law.

* Automobile insurance is not mandatory.

And that about outlines what purportedly makes New Hampshire tantamount to being some kind of libertarian paradise. Or at least, supposedly fertile ground for establishing one. So why did I leave for Vermont ?

In my specific case, it is worth mentioning that there were any number of personal issues affecting my life which influenced my decision. Most of them are not relevant here. However, in making my move, I had four other states to choose from, assuming I wanted to stay in New England (which I of course did; I'm a native, and it's just in my blood). Let's have a brief peek at those before we move on to Maple Syrup Country:

1.) The People's Republic of Marxachusetts: All I can say is that I really would have had to be crazy to have moved back there (I'm originally from Ted Kennedy Land ). Other than the climate, and some measure of free speech, there is not much difference between this state and Castro's Cuba .

2.) Maine : A lovely state (as states go), and home to one of my favorite authors. Really nice people, beautiful seashores, big hearty meals -- but like Marxachusetts, excessive, heavy-handed taxation. Not for me.

3.) Connecticut : Too many urban areas, too many taxes, too close to New York City . No thanks.

4.) Rhode Island : Other than not having a "bottle-bill" ( New Hampshire is the only other New England state which doesn't), I can't see why anyone would want to live here, period. Outside of being on a boat at Providence Harbor in summertime, not much to offer a liberty-lover.

And that brings us back to Vermont . So what, pray tell, makes said State the crown jewel of New England , in my view?

Well, Vermont is not Utopia. No place in Amerika these days is, nor ever was, even when it was still allegedly a "constitutional republic." But here's why I think Vermont is better than New Hampshire , all things taken as a whole:

* Most infamously, Vermont boasts virtually zero gun control, with the carrying of handguns -- including concealed ones -- requiring no government licensure or permission of any kind. This is in sharp contrast to the Granite State , where licenses are required and rigidly enforced by police. The website relating one particularly aggressive instance of police abuse I endured is now defunct, and the incident is too long to reproduce here, but the New Hampshire town in question was Exeter -- which I regard as demonstrative of the very worst which modern Amerika has to offer. And may it in turn live in well-deserved infamy as a pestilential garbage dump.

* On that note, Vermont has not only a much lower population (some 600,000 to NH's 1.2 million), it also possesses, even per capita, a far lower and less draconian law-enforcement presence. In fact, between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. , seven days a week, the Vermont State Police actually shut down. That's right: they turn off the lights and lock the doors to the barracks. A couple of troopers stay up at home in case a telephone call comes in during the wee hours, but that's all. At the time of this writing, I can't recall the last time I even saw a cop. There is a county sheriff's office, but the town I live in doesn't even have a local constable.

* Property taxes are roughly imitative of the national average. True, Vermonters complain about high property taxation (which really is a growing national trend; would that people wake up and demand an end to government schools altogether to permanently fix several problems at once, not just high taxes), but New Hampshire is the all-time national record breaker for property taxation. It's not uncommon for a shack on a half-acre in the Granite State to be taxed at $5,000 to $6,000 per year. And that's supposed to somehow be excused in light of the non-existence of other taxes?

* Electric rates are the lowest in New England . Right next door in NH, they are the highest in the country. Chalk that up to all the Federal Nuclear Decommissioning charges passed on to Granite State electric customers by the utility providers to pay for "powering down" the Seabrook Station nuclear plant. The real rich part of the joke is the bill of goods sold to New Hampshirites in the late 1970's by then-Governor John Sununu Sr. He bellowed loudly in those days that Seabrook Station would (a) bring thousands of jobs to NH, and (b) provide NH with lots of clean, cheap electricity while helping the country to reduce dependency on foreign oil. While Seabrook Station was being built, I could, in those days, stand in my grandparents' backyard -- which was in direct full view of the plant's main gate -- and look at the license plates of workers driving in and out . . . in between the throngs of hippies and environmentalists who had more or less formed a permanent protest camp all along U.S. Route 1. Lots of Maine and Massachusetts plates, not too many New Hampshire . It gets better: In the 20 years or so since SS went "online," virtually none of the power ever generated by that plant was sold into the New Hampshire market. Almost everywhere but, in fact. Yet NH consumers are footing the bill to this day.

* And speaking of license plates, registration of personal motor vehicles (automobiles, trucks, etc.) incurs paying a one-time 6% sales tax on the Blue Book value, and is then a flat $50 per year fee (tax) regardless of the vehicle's value, as opposed to a logarhythmic sliding scale excise tax system, such as NH and most other States have. This means Vermonters pay about one-third what their NH counterparts pay in the long run.

I could wax and wane on and on about more personal things I like better in Vermont -- the beautiful landscapes, the cleaner air, the friendlier people, the slower pace of life. But that's me, I realize, and not necessarily the next person. And to each his own is a big part of the point I hope I'm making here. So I've tried to stick with the objectively demonstrable. And I think the bugs I've uncovered under the stones I've overturned have revealed what for some may be an ugly truth: To wit, that New Hampshire, for all the hyperbole, ain't what it's cracked up to be.

To be more critical yet, I really have my doubts that the Free State (an oxymoron in itself) Project will affect any measurable change working within the abhorrently corrupt political system in New Hampshire -- and that's even assuming they are ever able to get 20,000 or so "libertarians" to move there (at the time of this writing, fewer than 500 have done so). A sorry affair.

Those long-dead people who fought the American Revolution were made of different stuff, it seems. Basic survival mandated sowing and reaping crops, raising livestock, hunting, building shelter and home necessities by hand, fighting Indians, seeing little in hard cash (gold and silver) throughout most of one's life. A life which generally lasted about 30 years, maybe a bit longer for women. How big of a transition was it to pick up musket and bayonet and sword and battle tyrants to the death in a blood-soaked revolution? Today, spoiled by technology and creature comforts, most Americans prefer "convenience" over liberty. Why risk prison or death when the refrigerator keeps the beer cold; lights come on at the flick of a switch; turn the knob and the thermostat banishes a winter's chill; hit the remote control and you're watching American Idol in digital sound and color.

Given this sum-total reality, for better or worse, I chose to come to Vermont . I must be either way ahead of the curve, or way behind it, I suppose. No matter. Those of us who cherish freedom dearly must each find our own path to the maximization of that end. Perhaps some New Hampshire apologists may come to recognize this. If that means you, remember that heading west across the Connecticut River is always an option. Drop me a line if you decide to make the switch. I might even fix you some pancakes.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 113

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales, including Tales from Dark 7.  He has also written and published poetry; non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues; and is former Communications Director for the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire.  In 1998, he was awarded Activist of the Year for that organization.  He now lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University, and looks forward to living in a governmentless society of liberty.