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JasonPSorens
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What I Learned in Vermont
« on: February 03, 2003, 10:03:42 pm »

[I'm posting this here because it is of interest to both "Which state?," political strategy, & recruiting and PR.]

I arrived at the Burlington airport on Saturday around noon and met Robert Maynard, the president of Citizens for Property Rights in Vermont.  We had lunch and chatted about the state of the libertarian movement in Vermont.

The Vermont Libertarian Party split in 2000.  The leadership at the time was strongly anti-conservative and expelled those who were opposed to the civil unions law, including the lone Libertarian representative in the state house, Neil Randall.  (He was elected as a Libertarian/Republican.)  The civil unions issue was not the only reason for the split.  There was a major disagreement in strategy.  The leadership wished to pursue a purist, intellectual course and rejected making alliances with the Take Back Vermont movement and its "populist" approach.  Although Take Back Vermont has been most closely associated with the civil unions issue, the movement actually started in 1998 with opposition to the school funding law, Act 60, which has resulted in a significant increase in property taxes in many parts of the state.

Robert Maynard was one of those who favored making alliances with the populist conservatives, and he left the Libertarian Party.  Neil Randall won re-election in 2000 as a Republican.  Robert admits that there are pitfalls in allying with the political right in Vermont, and my subsequent experiences would bear this out.  The Take Back Vermont movement is seen as "extremist" or "reactionary" in much of Vermont, certainly the Burlington area.  This has to do with the rhetoric and strategy of the movement more than anything else, I believe.  At the CPR meeting I was a bit uncomfortable with the way people talked about "the homosexuals", "out-of-state homosexual money," "the homosexual agenda," and similar phrases, as if people who are homosexual are politically or even culturally monolithic.  There's also an infamous story about the opponents of Act 60, who protested in front of the capitol and during this protest brought out the old car of a particularly liberal state senator, which they had purchased, and destroyed it with sledgehammers.  The grassroots conservatives in Vermont are not exactly slick political operatives, and it's clear they rub many people the wrong way with their blunt, oppositional approach.

The people at the CPR meeting were mostly very favorable to the FSP.  I handed out several Statements of Intent and shook hands with Neil Randall, who gave a talk as well.  He was defeated in the 2002 election, as were many other quasi-libertarians in the Vermont House.  I also met Hardy Macia, an early joiner of the FSP and Vermont LP activist.  He ran for the state house as a Libertarian/Republican and came within 100 votes of victory.  Neither Hardy nor Neil had held elective political office prior to running for state house.  The large size of the house - and small size of districts - makes it relatively easy for newcomers and political neophytes to win election, if they are good campaigners.

After the meeting, I headed out with the NPR folks who are doing a segment on the Free State Project for "This American Life," a national program that runs weekly on NPR stations.  We met with one of the leaders of the Progressive Party in Vermont, Anthony Pollina.  He ran for lieutenant governor in 2002 and won 25% of the vote in a three-way race.  Needless to say, he was basically opposed to the Free State Project and insisted that Vermonters would reject our ideas, because they favor "the active engagement of government."  It was difficult for me to reply to this, because he was a Vermont resident and I was not, although I knew that many of my views were shared by Vermonters, particularly those of the old stock.  The reporters asked where he was from, and it turns out he moved from New Jersey to Vermont in the early 1970s.  "So didn't you do exactly what Jason is planning to do?" they asked.  He grinned at that and backpedalled somewhat.  "Well, if you're coming to Vermont for the quality of life and will work toward strengthening our communities, you're certainly welcome," he replied.

After the interview, I returned to Robert Maynard's home, where I was spending the night.  We stayed up and talked politics some more.  I presented the idea of a non-partisan voters' league to him, and he thought that was an idea that could work particularly well in Vermont.  "The problem in Vermont is that you need the grassroots conservatives for your activists, but you also need to be able to reach out to rank-and-file progressives and moderates and not scare the bejeezus out of them," he said.  "For that, you'll need an effective leadership.  But I think the Take Back Vermont folks are learning very quickly how to play the political game."  He said that, historically, Vermont was the most libertarian state in the country, the only state to oppose FDR and the New Deal, and the state that gave the country Calvin Coolidge, the 20th century's most libertarian president.  However, it has changed a great deal since the 1960s, and now New Hampshire is more libertarian than Vermont.  Robert, a fourth-generation Vermonter, said that he'd be unable to move from Vermont, since he had recently bought a new business, but said that putting his biases aside, he believed Vermont and New Hampshire were about equal in potential for success.  New Hampshire is about "ten years behind" Vermont in the march to statism, and has a much better organized conservative-libertarian movement than Vermont.  But Vermont is smaller, the town meeting tradition is stronger in Vermont, and Vermont's history is an asset.  Robert believes that land area is a crucial consideration: to form a grassroots movement you will have to hold town meetings around the state, and short driving distances are essential for these.  A potentially workable alternative is a state that has a few population centers, in each of which we would have significant concentrations of activists.  He lent me The Vermont Papers by Bryan and McClaughry.
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2003, 10:04:34 pm »

(continued)

The next day, the NPR reporters and I met with the mayor of Burlington.  He is Bernie Sanders' successor to the post and runs as a Progressive.  Nevertheless, he is much more moderate than Sanders.  He was also a bit more welcoming than Pollina, though he said that we would be unable to "take over" the state, due to Vermonters' liberal views and resistance to outsiders.  He believed that we would become a significant part of the general Vermont milieu, merely one group among a diversity of ideological groups.  He did mention several times that he believed Progressives and Libertarians had quite a few things in common.  He even admitted that Vermont's regulatory process had become unworkable, and that it needed to be streamlined in order to work for small business, something that Pollina had refused to concede.  However, he said that he was committed to strengthening code enforcement in Burlington and providing subsidies for people to buy homes.  Government apparently has a fairly significant role in funding home purchases in Vermont.  This, when combined with the congested permit process for new developments, probably is a significant cause of the housing shortage in Vermont, which is something almost everyone we talked to mentioned as a problem in getting 20,000 people to settle in the state.  When government subsidizes home-buying, it pushes up demand for homes, and when the regulatory process prevents supply from adjusting, we have a shortage.  The reporters asked the mayor to draw a map of Vermont and show which parts of the state would be most supportive of our movement.  He drew Vermont and New Hampshire, indicated the Connecticut River as the border between the two, and drew an arrow from Vermont to New Hampshire.  "That's where you need to go, across the river."  We had a good laugh about that.

After meeting with the mayor, we walked around the restaurant and spoke to some "ordinary Vermonters."  Since we were in downtown Burlington, most of them were definitely progressive types.  We did meet one fellow who described himself as basically libertarian, and said that he voted for both Libertarians and Progressives in local races.  He said he did this because he wanted all views to be heard.  This seemed to be a common thread in responses to our idea.  Vermonters are natively anti-establishment.  I can't remember exactly how, but I got into a debate with one fellow over separation of school & state.  I wasn't completely well prepared for that discussion, and though I had arguments for every point he made, I don't think I brought them down to a readily understandable level.  One good analogy to use to make the case for separation (which I only thought of much later) is to compare education to other industries.  Kids have a right to be fed as much as educated, so does that mean restaurants and grocery stores should be government owned and operated?  Of course not - and you can talk about why government ownership of groceries & restaurants would fail: lack of choice & competition resulting in declines in quality, the necessity of rationing to control demand for a "free" service, etc.  All these arguments apply equally well to schooling.

After this we met with the principal of Burlington High School.  As could be expected, she was pretty much a typical NEA type who rejected all significant reform of government schooling out of hand.  Bush-ian "quality control" was about the most she was willing to consider.  She said we "should probably move out to Idaho or somewhere, where I hear a lot of people own guns and homeschool and hate the government."  This wasn't a particularly productive conversation.

We then visited with Mary Alice McKenzie, a business owner and major figure in the Republican Party in Vermont.  Apparently her name has been mentioned in the past as a potential gubernatorial candidate.  She described her political views as "very fiscally conservative and socially liberal."  She's basically a libertarian!  She's also a pragmatist, though, and was very complimentary toward the mayor of Burlington, crediting him with repealing some of the more egregiously anti-business measures instituted by Bernie Sanders when he was mayor.  She thought the political model of the Free State Project was sound and believed that we would have a major impact if we moved there.  Her main caveat was the economy.  She said that regulations were stifling jobs growth, and that lack of risk capital would make it very difficult to start new businesses.  She was very interested in and supportive of our efforts otherwise, however.  It was heartening to hear such a major figure in Vermont support our efforts.

The last interview was with a part-time lobbyist for the forestry industry, an acknowledged libertarian who studied under Milton Friedman and Gary Becker at Chicago, where he did graduate work in economics.  The reporters asked him if he would consider signing up for the Free State Project, and he said he would, though he was committed to working in Vermont.  So I gave him a form, and he signed up on tape, opting out of all states except Vermont. Wink  I asked him how much of the state legislature was already libertarian.  He estimated that matters were better now than they were a few years ago, and that a third of the house (50 members) were friendly to our ideas.  I have a feeling this includes a lot of conservatives, and maybe some iconoclastic liberals.  He said there were 25-30 real socialists in the house, and of the 50 who support us, 15 were true libertarians through and through.  So that's 10% of the state house that we would "have" right away when we move in.

Some things I noticed from all the conversations I've had this weekend are: 1) A good way to introduce the Free State Project is to say that we are researching states based on their favorability to ideas of smaller government and more individual freedom, for the purpose of promoting one state as the best place for Americans with such ideas to settle and live.  This way it sounds less like a hostile takeover, which it really isn't, in my view. 2) Vermonters value independence and non-conformity, and evaluate candidates more on personal characteristics than ideology. 3) You don't need a lot of political experience to win state house seats.  Nevertheless, political liberals seemed to have a lot more experience than political conservatives.  They are more willing to serve on boards and commissions and make a career out of politics. 4) There aren't many native Vermonters left, at least in Burlington!  I think we met only two native Vermonters out of all the people we spoke to.  A couple people mentioned that most of the state legislative seats are occupied by non-natives.  Whether you are a native or not doesn't have much relevance for political success. 5) Ideological polarization lies beneath the surface in Vermont, though people are quick to deny it.  The mayor of Burlington claimed that it was an "urban myth" to think that there was a coordinated attempt by leftists to take over Vermont in the 1970s.  Conservatives insist that there was, and Robert Maynard mentioned a few stories and episodes that suggest to me that there was such a coordinated attempt, though more loosely organized than the FSP.  Overall, this issue is a very touchy one in Vermont.  6) Vermonters are proud of their heritage of town government, even though state government has increasingly taken functions away from local government.  Decentralization could be a major winning issue for a libertarian movement in Vermont.  7) It's cold!  I like it, though.  There was a good bit of snow on the ground, perhaps a foot in some places, and it snowed gently most of the time I was there.  The winter could wear on some people, but complaining about the weather is looked down upon in Vermont.  There was one facetious suggestion that to keep out riff-raff, the highways should not be plowed. Wink

It was a productive and fascinating journey.  I wish I could do a tour of this kind in all the states we're considering.
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2003, 12:58:59 am »

  Jason, what's stoping you from visiting all the states?
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JasonPSorens
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2003, 07:30:23 am »

Cost. Wink
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2003, 12:25:59 pm »

Cost. Wink
That reminds me, I need to send in my donation check to the FSP soon!  Anybody else out there too?

According to Varrin's air-service report, out of all candidate states, Idaho has the most flight service and the lowest over-all cost of tickets of all of our other states.   Southwest airlines has daily flights serving Boise. --hint, hint Wink
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2003, 08:27:24 am »

Here's what Robert Maynard had to say after reading my observations:

Jason,

I just finished reading the report and found it to be excellent.  I would
like to make a few observations.   First of all, your assertion that "A good
way to introduce the Free State Project is to say that we are researching
states based on their favorability to ideas of smaller government and more
individual freedom, for the purpose of promoting one state as the best place
for Americans with such ideas to settle and live. This way it sounds less
like a hostile takeover..." is right on.  That is the approach you might
want to use with ALL the states being considered.

In addition, the non-partisan league idea is a must.  You are likely to get
a greater number of supporters from the natives that way.  Such an approach
will avoid the problem of tarring the FSP with the partisan label, which is
political suicide in Vermont.  I am glad that you met Mary Alice McKenzie
and Bill Sayre, both of who are prominent within the GOP.  Although I did
not say so, the notion that some FSPers would not consider voting for a
non-LPer, was quite troubling to me.  Such political lack of sophistication
could very well kill the project.  I can think of some other prominent
GOPers and at least one Democrat, who probably would support the project.
On the other hand, the minute they believe that the FSP is more interested
in advancing the fortunes of one political party, rather than the broader
ideal of liberty, most of that support would turn into opposition.  My guess
is that would apply to many at the CPR meeting who support the idea.  This
is something that the FSP should seriously consider.  The Progressive
Coalition only became an actual political party in 2001.  Until then, they
were a loose coalition of left leaning groups with interlocking leadership.
When they did not run as Democrats, they ran as Independents.  The label
"Independent" is one of the major reasons why Bernie is so popular.  In
contrast, the Liberty Union Party is strictly about advancing the fortunes
of that party.  The result being that the Progressives have been a major
political force and the Liberty Union Party barely registers on the
political radar screen.

Keep me informed on your progress .  If you do choose Vermont, one of the
first things that those moving there should do is meet with local supporters
to discuss strategy.


Regards,
Robert
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2003, 10:58:45 am »

The more I learn about Vermont, the greater an enigma it becomes to me.  I can't decide whether to run from it or embrace it, vote for it or against it.  Sometimes it seems like 20,000 activists could easily attain 51% success in implementing a libertarian agenda in that state within 2 years of trying and yet spend another 80 years trying to get anywhere on the rest.  
The people of Vermont defy any stereotype, it seems.  Whether I vote Vermont high or low, whether we go there or not, I must go visit that state someday soon!

1) A good way to introduce the Free State Project is to say that we are researching states based on their favorability to ideas of smaller government and more individual freedom, for the purpose of promoting one state as the best place for Americans with such ideas to settle and live.  This way it sounds less like a hostile takeover, which it really isn't, in my view.
This is a very good point, I will use this approach from now on, even in recruiting in California.

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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2003, 11:31:14 am »

If we could create a non-partisan league and successfully unite and coordinate the liberty-oriented members of the various political parties in our chosen state, this could very well serve as precedent for something that could be duplicated in every state in the Union to great effect.

In essence, it could become a ripple effect spreading out through the whole pond from the one little stone we drop in just a part of it.  This could, quite realistically, become a great contribution to the cause of liberty throughout the entire country - even more so than contributing two U.S. senators.
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2003, 01:53:50 pm »

As a person who currently works in Vermont while living in NH, I am impressed by Jason's trip to the Green Mountain State. I hope he was able to see more of the state than just the Burlington area (Chittenden County). That county is markedly different from much of the rest of Vermont, yet tends to drown the rest of the state out in statewide elections. It is much more Progressive and full of 'carpet baggers' than the rest of the state.

I work in White River Junction, which is at the intersection of interstates 91 and 89, where 89 crosses the Connecticutt River from New Hampshire. This area is not quite as liberal as Burlington, yet not quite as conservative as much of the rural areas of the state. Many folks in this area openly deride the Civil Unions Law, Act 60, as well as Act 250, which places severe restrictions on development and established a system of "Environmental Courts" that allow Green extremists to bypass the normal court systems in appealing their opposition to permit approvals with a coterie of handpicked politically vetted Green judges.

This triad of leftist laws is one of the reasons I, despite living on the borderland of NH and Vermont, would only move to Vermont if it were required for the very survival of the FSP. Chittenden county dominates politics in this state, and not just in numbers of voters who are primarily transplants from New York and New Jersey, but that these people are plugged into the nationwide leftist political machine and are able to bring vast amounts of left wing political money into the state to influence elections.

Another onerous law is the Open Primaries Law, which states that political parties must allow anybody who wants to to vote in their party primaries, no matter what party those voters are registed as members of. With this law, the liberals are able to sabotage the candidacies of true members of other parties and substitute them with candidates which are not a threat to their own agendas.

We saw this in the 1998 election, where there was much rural opposition to liberal US Senator Patrick Leahy, and much determination on the part of the GOP to oust him with their own millionaire candidate. It looked like Leahy was going to have a tough row to hoe.

A local liberal, small time film-maker who produced the indy film "A Man with a Plan", about retired Vermont farmer Fred Tuttle and his fictitious plan to run for congress in order to get good medical insurance for his ailing wife, turned the spoof film into a manifesto and talked Fred Tuttle himself into running for the GOP nomination against Pat Leahy, so as to give Leahy an easy ride to reelection.

Pretty soon, "Spread Fred" bumperstickers (originally part of the movie promotional campaign) and signs were all over the state and New England in general. When Fred won the GOP nomination thanks to liberals crossing party lines to vote for him and defeat the real GOP candidate, Fred then openly called for voters to vote for Leahy in the general election.

These are the sort of tactics that liberals use to dominate the political landscape in Vermont. They use divide and conquer, bait and switch, alienate and demonization tactics that have seriously turned off THIS FSPer to the idea of moving to Vermont seeing political advantage...

Mike Lorrey
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #9 on: February 08, 2003, 02:07:23 pm »

The liberals play rough in Vermont, don't they!  We should learn from that, wherever we decide to go.

FWIW, here's some info on the Northeast Kingdom that Robert Maynard e-mailed me.  The NE Kingdom is thought to be the most conservative part of the state, but it's actually more populist than conservative...

"Jason,


Below is a quote form an online Vermont political newsletter analyzing why
"progressive" candidates do so well in Vermont's "conservative" Northeast
Kingdom.  This really is no mystery, as people in the NEK are really
populist rather than conservative.  I thought that it might fit in withn the
discussion on "The Vermont Manifesto" that is taking place on the FSP web
site.

Regards,
Robert


In 1988, Dwyer received 41.1 percent of the vote, Republican Congressional
candidate Mark Candon 32.8 percent. The results were almost identical in
2002; Dubie received 41.2 percent of the vote and Meub 32.2 percent. Twenty
five percent of the folks who voted for conservative Dwyer or Dubie must
have voted for socialist Bernie.

It did not naturally compute for us so we called our Northeast Kingdom
expert where this typical vote splitting goes on, the right Reverend Jane
Dwinell of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Derby Line, liberal
activist and Sanders supporter and sister of your editor, and asked for her
explanation.

"It is amazing to me too. Those folks are the ones who drive their pick-up
trucks, gun rack filled, to town meeting, and vote against everything. They
are against big government. Bernie is against big business. I guess it is
all bad to them. So they vote Bernie year in and year out."
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2003, 09:13:50 am »

More background on Vermont from Steve Szydlowski:

Dear Jason,
 
I have lived in Vermont for the past four years, and I can tell you the left is losing
its grip.  Over the last thirty years, a relatively small but determined band of
socialists have accomplished exactly what you intend to do, and they did it by
controlling only one town - Burlington (pop. 50,000).
 
I live in a much more rural setting than Burlington, and most of the folks I talk to are
completely fed up with the status quo.  Our taxes, especially out property taxes, have
been seized by the state and are in auto-rise mode, since our tax level is based on our
land wealth, and our development laws are quite cumbersome.  A 15 acre lot I purchased
for $90,000 in August, 1998, just sold in November 2002 for $195,000.
Given our tax formula, the property tax on this unimproved lot has risen from $1,500 to
$3,666 in 4 short years.  I have no sewer, water, fire, police, trash collection, street
lights - just a dirt road and a sub-standard education system.  Of the $3,666 I paid last
year, $2,145 went to the state.
 
Burlington supported for this system (Act 60) in 1996 because they were a net recipient
of the funds collected at that time.  However, due to the changing real estate market,
they are now a net payer.  For the first time in years, we have a Republican governor.
This is no coincidence.  However, the Repulican sweep did not dislodge the socialists
from the state senate (they do control the house), so our Republican governor will get
dragged to the left if he's to get anything done.  Over the next few years, Burlington
will finally be shouldering the true cost of a 30 year socialist fling.  I believe it
will be ripe for FSP's taking.
 
Consider the rest of the state:

Vermont is home to many second-home owners from New York and Boston.  They are a
relatively wealthy lot, and they are getting absolutely slammed by rising property
taxes.  If somehow a tax-free haven could be carved out of this socialist state, you
could count on their support.  While they offer no votes, they have deep pockets, and are
definetly caught in the taxation without representation syndrome.  It is difficult to
estimate how many would switch their residence base given a more tax-friendly
environment, but given the advancements in communications technology (they can bring
their high-paying jobs with them), this number may be considerable.
 
Vermont is 75% forested, yet the logging industry faces a permit nightmare on all lots
above 40 acres.  The tree-huggers feel 75% is just not enough.
 
Vermont is one of the most highly taxed states in the union.  Now that the "big" town is
in that boat too, a tax-cutter will do well here.
 
Vermont has a state-wide insurance program that has driven all but two health care
insurers out of the state.  The medical community spends as much time filling in paper
work as they do treating patients, and their pricing power is controlled by Montpelier.
 
Vermont has a state-wide land use/development permit process called Act 250, which
requires a state review of most development.  It is an open-ended process which, if
challenged by anyone, including outsiders, puts the appicant back to square one.  The
environmentalists and the lawyers love this one.
 
Vermont has the only gay-lesbian legal recognition in the union.  Outwardly, this seems
like a forward looking , liberty-loving stance.  But the truth of the matter is the law
came about because the state has usurped many of our rights, and is now in the business
of auctioning them off the highest bidder.  The gay/lesbian coalition knew this, and
spent heavily (most of the money came from San Francisco) because they knew they could
win in a small state, and therefore get a toe-hold.  You should be able to duplicate
their efforts.
 
The list of "the state controls . . ." goes on and on.  Keep in mind socialists tend to
build their pyramids upside down.  It shouldn't take much to knock it over.
 
Sincerely,
Steve Szydlowski
Woodstock, VT
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2003, 11:15:13 pm »

Jason:
 
  I read tour article as to "What You Learned in Vermont," and I fear you have been misinformed.
 
  Neither Neil Randall nor anybody else was "expelled" from the VT Libertarian Party. Randall left of his own accord.  He gave his reason for leaving the Party in his press release in which he said that the "Libertarian Party has moved to the libertine."
 
   Randall was NOT out of synch with the Party for his objections to the civil unions law. A number of other Libertarians also objected to the civil unions law, because it extends state benefits and increases state involvement in private life. But Randall's objections were primarily on moral and religious grounds---grounds that are utterly and totally unacceptable to Libertarians as justification for government action or inaction.
 
   Repeatedly and in public, Randall cited his private moral judgments as reasons for his specific votes on legislation, such as his belief that homosexuality is immoral and is a disease requiring a cure.  He called for the impeachment of judges for, among other things, having views that are not in accord with the "Judeo-Christian tradition."  He called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage exclusively as a union between one man and one woman, and he has worked for a constitutional amendment that would prevent homosexual unions from receiving the same treatment as heterosexual unions.  He has affirmed his belief that Christianity, as he interprets it, is and must be the guiding force behind government, and he has specifically questioned the separation of church and state in America.
 
     There is no way that anyone who holds such political views, that are so antithetical to the Libertarian  Party's ideological principles, can adequately represent our Party.  The renomination of Neil Randall would have severely damaged the Party by giving us a populist right-wing Christian-coalition image, whereas it is a fundamental principle of the LP to seek utter government neutrality in these matters. In the words of our then-chair, Scott Berkey, Randall and the Party were "not a good mix."  
 
  Also, the VT LP never "split." The departure of Randall and Maynard, or the disaffection of a minority of moral conservatives who misinterpreted or misunderstood Libertarianism when they first came to the Party, does not constitute a "split." I doubt these people would have felt impelled to leave the Party if they had enjoyed any significant support among other Libertarians.  

  As for the "Take Back Vermont" movement, most of us in the VT LP do not want the liberals to continue to "have" Vermont.  But we certainly don't want the conservatives to have it either, particularly the fringe conservatives. We don't want anybody to "take Vermont."  We are, after all, Libertarians.

   The Libertarian Party simply cannot be a refuge or a podium for extreme conservatives or extreme liberals who find the Republican and Democartic parties not conservative or liberal enough for their tastes.  We Libertarians are neither liberals or conservatives.  Our main thrust is that liberty must not be applied selectively, and that those people whose habits and practices we don't like have equal rights and must receive equal protection of the laws as those we do like. "Liberty" applied only to one side of the traditional political spectrum is not liberty at all!

  Unfortunately, the LP and its affiliates have been repeatedly tainted by the ongoing arrival and departure of left and right wing culture-shocked fringe types over past these three decades--people whose idea of libertarianism is liberty for their own sacred cows, but not for things they oppose. It has generated a series of ugly public images that have gone a long way to keep our Party out of the mainstream. If the Free State Project takes on one or the other of these colorations it will, like the LP, go nowhere.  Or else, it will become an instrument of statism rather than liberty.  A friendly warning from one who wishes you well.

  Regards,

  Chris Costanzo
  Past State Chair
  Vermont Libertarian Party
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #12 on: February 11, 2003, 07:19:31 am »

I certainly don't want to get in the middle of a Libertarian Party dispute, and it's undoubted that I do not have all the facts in this case.  I will say that I don't necessarily have a problem with someone who says that Christianity is the basis for just law, or even that this country is in some sense "founded on" Christian principles.  What I do have a problem with is the position that it is appropriate to use the government to punish private sin.  Accordingly, if Neil Randall supported drug prohibition, a ban on prostitution, etc., I agree that he is not a libertarian and should not receive the Libertarian Party endorsement in elections.  (That doesn't mean we couldn't work with him and others like him on all the issues where we were in agreement.)

Robert Maynard argued - and from all I've observed, I agree - that there are both upsides and downsides to cooperating with "Take Back Vermont."  On the one hand, they are not "pure" and frighten progressive voters.  On the other hand, they are activists on some of the most important issues of the day.  Since we libertarians are a minority - and will be even if the Free State Project succeeds, though much less of one - we will always need to cooperate with people who are not libertarians in order to get our agenda passed.  The question thus boils down to strategic balance.  If we chose Vermont, we would benefit by positioning ourselves in the middle of the political spectrum, while reaching out to non-libertarians on both sides: rank-and-file progressives who are strong advocates of civil liberties & believe the state has gone too far in curtailing property rights, and conservatives who are willing to put their social agenda on the back burner while working on economic & property rights issues.
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Re:What I Learned in Vermont
« Reply #13 on: February 11, 2003, 09:05:49 am »

Jason:

   Thanks for your quick reply to my message.

   You said that you don't necessarily have a problem with someone who says that Christianity is the basis for just law, or even that this country is in some sense founded on Christian principles.  Randall said that, and that by itself would not have been a problem whether one agrees with it or not.
But Randall's views go a lot further.  I quote from his written statement to our State Committee:

   "It is indisputable that men who founded our country, by a large majority, were Christians and considered they were creating a country founded on the principles of Christianity. . .I challenge anyone to show me the words 'separation of church and state' in any of our founding documents. . .This whole separation of church and state debate is premised on double standards. . .I will work for a Constitutional Amendment to limit State recognition of marriage to the union of one man to one woman. . .Will I or
do I vote to impose my Christian moral values on the people using the force of Government?  the short answer is Of Course."

    I could quote a lot more. As I said, there is no way that anyone who holds such political views, that are so antithetical to the Libertarian  Party's ideological principles, can adequately represent our Party.  From what you say, I am sure you will not fall for the hoary old gambit that if one objects to the use of government to enforce private morality or religiously-prescribed behavior one must therefore be amoral or anti-religion.

    Rober Maynard alleges his desire to restore morality to society.  His declared method is the application of liberty in civil society, that would give freer rein to initiatives by families, churches, and communities who have been in many ways pre-empted by the nanny-state.  Neither I nor other
Libertarians object to that. But we had to draw the line in disagreeing with his desire to support candidates who politicize religion and spirituality to the degree that Randall did.  When Robert told you that the Vt LP was "liberal," he really missed the point that a lot of people miss about our Party.  Not being conservatives does not make us "liberals," nor vice versa.  Our party is not interested in the struggle between left and right, no matter how much it is disguised as a "libertarian." issue.  Rather, we are interested in the struggle between Liberty and Authority, where we demand an across-the-board application of liberty to all activities that don't infringe on the rights of others.

    A secondary problem was the expression of weird political theories, blatant and erroneous reconstruction of American history, completely inaccurate portrayal of the views of our founding fathers, ignorance of the American the "constitution," erroneous understanding of governmental
institutions, ad-hominem demonization of political figures with whom we disagree. While we do not insist on the same level of intellectual rigor that you might have had to apply at Yale, nevertheless some of these positions were so markedly on the "fringe" that they were an embarrasment to me and
many others in the Party who have been striving to win over the thinking and uncommitted middle of the local electorate..

   Indeed, like many ultra-conservatives, Maynard sounds deceptively and engagingly libertarian at first blush, just as many ultra-liberals can equally sound libertarian until one has worked with them for a while.  All groups that happen to be out of power, including statist groups, support their views on the grounds of "liberty."  When the VT LP ran 44 candidates
and, thereby, had a certain political weight in Vermont, the out of power Republican conservatives put considerable pressure on us to support them and work with them, on the grounds that if we did not do so we were not really
sincere believers in "liberty."  Beware of such blandishments. Such siren songs, when followed, have served greatly vto confuse the public as to the Libertarian philosophy.

   I understand, Jason, that you don't want to get involved, as you say, in an internal VT LP dispute.  But, as I said, there is no significant internal "split" or dispute in the Party, as Maynard would have you believe.  If there had been, and if Randall or Maynard had enjoyed any serious following
in the VT LP, why would they have left?  You must understand that you can't publish the erroneous statements of a disaffected former Party member about the Party, and expect not to be addressed on the matter.

   Regards and good wishes,

   Chris Costanzo
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