New Hampshire has always been fiercely independent; we have “Live Free Or Die” on our license plates and a pirate ship on the state flag. (OK, it’s a “commerce raider”, po-tay-to, po-tah-to). But of course the same laws of bureaucratic growth and special-interest politics apply everywhere in the Universe, so the question remains: “Why is New Hampshire different”? One major factor is the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance.
The NHLA is composed of a few hundred citizen volunteers who, like the Founding Fathers’ “committees of correspondence”, get together in the poorly heated back rooms of certain sinister-looking bookstores, taverns, etc. and… actually read the Statehouse bills. This makes the proceedings of New Hampshire government uniquely open. (In most states, even the legislators can’t keep track of the bills… in Texas, the committee process is so complicated they sometimes can’t even tell whether a vote on a bill means “yes” or “no”!)
The NHLA publishes summaries and ratings of bills in its Gold Standard newsletter, which is printed and distributed to all legislators. In addition, NHLA volunteers compile the votes of all senators and representatives, and publish them in the annual Liberty Rating, a “report card” to the voters.
While the NHLA has an active PAC, it is strictly nonpartisan, donating to candidates according to their fiscal conservatism and support for personal freedoms rather than party affiliation. And the NHLA ratings are just as useful for “progressives” as for fiscal conservatives… if you believe that North Korea is the ideal, simply vote for legislators with an “F” rating.
The NHLA has only been around for a few years, but its efforts were clearly visible in the 2010 elections. Most of its endorsed candidates won, and they went on to cut the state budget by 12%. (This was only a reduction from a larger percentage increase left over from the previous legislature, but still an important stimulus to the private sector of the state… and an end to the increase in our debt burden that the previous wastrels had advocated).
Of course there is still a long way to go. Like every state, New Hampshire still has its special interests, inefficiencies, and just plain dumb government programs. Just to pick on one major budget area, we’re still spending over $15,000 per pupil per year in our schools… far more than the average private school. Hopefully 2012 will be the year that . If we’re going to spend prep-school money on schools, our children should all be getting first-class educations, tailored to their individual needs.
Democracy fails when it’s only driven by subsidies and “bailouts”. The only cure for money-driven politics is citizens who get involved. If even one million of the 308 million people in the US spent a few hours per year keeping track of their government, you can bet that government would be a lot smaller and a lot less toxic.
So check out the NHLA on Facebook or their web site, and consider joining in. Trying to decipher Statehouse bills may seem like it would require a degree from Miskatonic University, but there are training sessions (and remember, we’re doing this in taverns, so it’s not that bad).