Free State Project members seeking Bedford votes
BEDFORD — Many people choose to live in New Hampshire because of its quality of life, its Live Free or Die attitude, its low taxes and its limited state and local bureaucracy.
And some who come for all of those reasons want a greater hand in how government is run, as the town of Bedford is learning firsthand.
In 2003, members of the Free State Project, a movement founded outside of New Hampshire, decided to make the state their new home. The group's goal is to have 20,000 Libertarian-minded Free Staters live in New Hampshire. So far, 15,438 have signed a pledge to move here; 1,575 now make New Hampshire their home, according to the Free State Project website.
In Bedford, two Free Staters — Aaron Day and Matt Philips — are running for seats on the school board and the town council, respectively, in the March 11 election. Day moved to town in late 2009, he said, and bought a house at 13 Riddle Drive in October 2012. Philips, who lives with Day, moved here five months ago.
Day is a trustee of the Free State Project and chairman of the N.H. Republican Liberty Caucus. He said he moved to Bedford with his wife, Irina, because New Hampshire offers a better way of life.
"I want to live in a state that strongly believes in protecting personal liberties, and New Hampshire's 'Live Free or Die' mentality does that," Day said. "I grew up in a town in Indiana that's the same size as Bedford, and it has a similar feel. Before moving to New Hampshire in 2009, we were living in Boston, with high taxes and high crime. That's not what we wanted for our children. The Massachusetts legislators make all this money, but in New Hampshire, they get a stipend of $100; there is much less corruption in government here. Bedford is politically conservative and has a small-town feel, with less intrusive government."
Philips, who is single, said he took the pledge to move to New Hampshire in 2003, but had been busy at an Internet startup company in New York City.
"I chose New Hampshire partly because of the Free State Project, but also because of all the reasons everyone else chose it; remember, only 42 percent of New Hampshirites were born in the state," Philips said. "The people here are warm, welcoming, pragmatic and reasonable. There is great natural beauty, low crime, low poverty, low personal taxes."
Impact on Bedford
Some longtime residents see the Free State movement as a threat and an attempt to make drastic changes to local and state government.
"Most of us have come to New Hampshire because of a way of life and not because we're part of a group formed outside of the state," said Bill Greiner, a former town councilor and member of several community organizations. "Aaron Day and Matt Philips have only recently come to Bedford for the sole purpose of colonizing New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project and infiltrating municipal and state elective office to make radical and anarchistic changes that would be extremely detrimental to the quality of life in Bedford."
Part of the Free Staters' mission is to "neither provide for people nor punish them for activities that interfere with no one else." Greiner said this could mean a reduction or elimination of public services and infrastructure improvements.
"The impact on Bedford would be significant because they do not believe in the Constitution, authority such as police, public education and nearly everything else that government provides. The way of life and quality of life is at risk, and this could then impact property values, bond ratings, etc.," Greiner said.
Day pointed out he has lived in Bedford 4½ years and objected to several of Greiner's comments.
"Greiner has been factually inaccurate in his statements about me and the Free State project. I am not against the Constitution. New Hampshire is the 'Live Free or Die' state, and the truth is in his time on the town council, property taxes here have nearly doubled."
At the Bedford School District's deliberative session on Feb. 4, Day wanted to change the terms of the district's pension fund, but was told all towns are required by the state to participate in the retirement system. He also tried to reduce the budget by $880,000, but his motion was based on the default budget, not the proposed budget. The default budget is set by state statute and cannot be amended. The motion was changed to reflect the proposed budget, but failed by hand vote.
Another longtime resident, Paul Brock, who served on the school board from 1996 to 2005 and who serves as chairman of the nonprofit Bedford Education Foundation, said Day's statements at the meeting show he isn't familiar with Bedford or the state's educational system.
"He doesn't seem to know what's going on in New Hampshire and seems to know less about what has happened in Bedford," Brock said. "He hasn't done his homework. He wanted to change defined benefit to defined contribution, but that's a Concord statewide issue, and he spent considerable time at the deliberative session on an issue that's not in the school board's control."
Brock, who served as chairman of the school board when voters approved building the high school, said he believes the schools and the town are running efficiently and effectively.
"They would like to get us out of the public school business, and I've spent too many years, tears and effort on the school board to see that happen. Anyone who wants to dismantle our school system, I'm opposed to," Brock said. "They should live in New Hampshire and earn their stripes before they run for office in New Hampshire."
Homework for voters
The Free State Project's philosophy is "less government is better government, and government should only exist to protect individual rights." Philips said anyone seeking more information should Google "Libertarian reading list" or read "The Law," by Claude Frederic Bastiat.
"I'll try to summarize: I own myself, nobody else has a claim to me or my property. At the town level, there are some essential functions provided by the government, and due to its smaller size, it tends to be less wasteful than, say, the federal government," Philips said.
Both candidates said they do not think the current town council or the school board have too much power.
"The town council and school board are accountable to the electorate, and if they overstep their bounds as defined by the charter, then it is the responsibility of the voters to make their will known," Philips said. "Of course, that depends on there being a choice of candidates, which is why I'm running."
Day said the current school board is more oriented to people with students in the schools.
"I want to be able to send my children to public school, but I have concerns about Common Core. I do have kids, and I'm concerned about the curriculum and the schools themselves, and I'm going to do a complete analysis for my own children. I think that's a unique perspective," Day said. "On the school board, there's only people who have kids in the schools, and that's poor structure. I'm a taxpayer, but I also want to represent older people."
Philips said Bedford can improve by taking the lead in investing in economic growth and protecting those investments, and needs leaders who understand and have experience in implementing technology.
"If the voters judge me by my character and statements and elect me, then I will work with my fellow councilors within the framework established by the town charter and the New Hampshire and United States Constitutions," Philips said.
Greiner said he is hoping Bedford voters will look at the candidates and do research into the Free State Project before Election Day on March 11.
"The residents of Bedford, regardless of political ideology, need to see these folks for what they are; part of an attempt to infiltrate New Hampshire and our community in order to radically transform what Bedford stands for. Make no mistake; this is a well-calculated attempt on their part to come in literally overnight and influence our lives," Greiner said.