Leaving Nevada

Libertarians believe there’s strength in numbers. So they’re heading out

Joe Silvestri is the Clark County chairman of the Libertarian Party. Learn more about the Libertarians’ efforts at www.freestateproject.org.

Joe Silvestri is the Clark County chairman of the Libertarian Party. Learn more about the Libertarians’ efforts at www.freestateproject.org.

Joe and Julie Silvestri aren’t packing their bags just yet, but their party is on the move. Literally.

The Libertarian Party, for which Joe Silvestri serves as Clark County chairman, has helped launch the Free State Project, an ambitious campaign that’s recruiting 20,000 freedom-loving folks to pull up stakes and relocate to a small U.S. state.

The goal: Invade the body politic and transform it into a Libertarian (or at least libertarian) stronghold.

So far, some 2,500 souls have signed up at www.freestateproject.org. Among the notable Nevada signatories are Vin Suprynowicz, columnist with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and J. J. Johnson, owner of the Pahrump-based Web site Sierra Times. Debra Ricketts, a member of FSP’s board of directors, lives in Henderson … for now.

Suprynowicz captured the quasi-religious sense of the exodus, pledging to “cross state lines to preserve liberty [since] our founding fathers were willing to die to do the same.”

So where are they going? That’s still very much in the ether, says Jason Sorens, a Yale graduate student who is spearheading the project from the East Coast. Sorens and his crew narrowed the field of states by, first, determining that size matters. They decided to consider only those states with fewer than 1.5 million residents.

That eliminated fast-growing Nevada (population 2 million and climbing). But even if the Silver State had passed the numbers test, the Libertarians’ other qualifiers would have knocked it out.

Rhode Island and Hawaii, for example, were axed because of their leftist voting patterns and federal presence. Likewise, Las Vegas’ growing bloc of ethnic minorities (who typically vote Democratic), along with federal control of nearly 90 percent of Nevada’s land, were major stumbling blocks for Libertarians.

“Nevada can be a fun place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there,” Anita L. Joule wrote in an early FSP analysis of the state. “It offers ample opportunities to indulge in guns, gambling and girls, so one would think that the state would be extremely liberty-oriented. This, however, is not the case in many areas that members would be interested in.”

Joule ticked off the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste dump, nettlesome water issues, poor soil and extreme heat as just a few of the serious impediments to the Free State Project, which pines for a more benign agrarian paradise. Goodbye, Nevada.

At this point, 10 states remain in the running: Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

The geographically diverse list reflects an East-West split, with voter preferences all over the map. While declining to give preliminary results that might skew the results, Sorens reports that one state has become a lightning rod.

“A vocal minority support Alaska as the only choice, while a majority are leery of moving there,” he says.

Alaska may be the biggest long shot for the same reasons that crippled Nevada. But that state already has a viable secessionist movement in the form of the Alaska Independence Party, which elected a governor back in 1990. And don’t forget those rich oil reserves.

Rural Western states may have difficulty attracting Libertarian-FSPers, many of whom work in the high-tech and financial-services industries.

Ricketts, an MIS manager for a Las Vegas management consulting firm, won’t divulge her personal preference, “but I will say that Westerners really like the West.” She also sees more risk-taking out this way.

“The people back east are concerned more about jobs,” she says. “Out here, they just say, ‘We’ll make the jobs.'”

Silvestri, a transplanted New Yorker, favors the West. “Wyoming looks good,” the pony-tailed teacher says. “But,” he adds, “I’ve not committed yet.”

Sorens says a sizable percentage of FSP respondents—mainly Easterners—flat out refuse even to consider living in Alaska or Wyoming. Such concerns could give a slight edge to New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state that ranks high on several libertarian indicators (see sidebar).

But Sorens cautions that it’s still early in a process that has no firm deadline. Besides, getting Libertarians to come together is about as easy as herding cats. Indeed, the FSP mascot is a porcupine.

“Education is going to be an important part of what we do,” Sorens states. “[This will involve] educating ourselves to the state that we choose to live in and educating the residents there as to what we stand for.”

To shift the politics of their new home, wherever it is, the Libertarians say they want to span the philosophical spectrum. The envisioned coalition runs the gamut from constitutionalists and paleoconservatives longing for the Old Republic to Greens and classical liberals. In other words: just about anyone outside the confines of Democratic-Republican Party orthodoxy and the corporate suites of Big Business.

“We have to focus our attention on those who don’t vote a lot or whose lives aren’t taken up by politics,” Sorens explains.

Once they make their move, FSP members would run for a variety of political offices. Once elected, they’d push for the repeal of state taxes and wasteful government programs.

States rights are a big part of the game plan that includes ending what libertarians and conservatives see as an unholy collaboration between state and federal officials. Seeking to gut what they call unconstitutional laws, RFPers intend to seize control of federal lands and strictly protect the state borders.

“I think you’d see the federal presence come to an end,” Silvestri speculates. “We’d tell them to keep their highway money. The schools would go private. There would be no property taxes.”

Like many anxious Nevadans, Silvestri is increasingly antsy about the rising tax talk emanating from Carson City. Though both he and his wife are comfortably employed by the Clark County School District, Silvestri longs for more freedom and a simpler life stripped of urban angst.

As vice chairman of the Nevada state party, he also believes that Libertarians should concentrate on grassroots organization and put aside costly presidential politicking.

That’s clearly Sorens’ take, too. He says FSP hopes to have 5,000 bona-fide members within three years. "That would be a tipping point to show people that we are serious," he says.