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Why I didn’t vote for Bedford’s Free Stater candidates

Friday, April 4, 2014

By Jeff Rapsis

Correspondent

One of the interesting things about this year’s town election is that two candidates for local office were associated with the “Free State” movement.

Who were they? Aaron Day ran for School Board and Matt Philips ran for Town Council. I don’t know either of them, as they’re still fairly new to Bedford and our paths haven’t crossed yet.

Both gentlemen didn’t win election this time around. Day came in fourth in the battle for two open School Board seats, while Philips placed third in the race for two open Town Council seats.

However, they seem to be articulate and thoughtful, and interested in local matters. I think it’s great that Day took the time to attend this year’s school district deliberative meeting (I certainly didn’t), and that he actually proposed changes in the way contributions are made to the state’s retirement system.

At the time, some folks criticized Day for trying to mess with something at the local level that’s mandated by state law. And yes, there’s a time and a place for everything. But I admire Day’s thinking: That too often we just accept that things can’t be changed, and so an entrenched system continues on.

Where does change start, if not at the local level?

And I was disappointed to see people criticize Philips and Day for being “newcomers” who haven’t paid their dues or somehow don’t understand Bedford. What a joke! This shouldn’t matter, and even if it did, I think new people might bring needed fresh perspectives.

But still, I didn’t vote for them, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because the whole Free State movement, as it has played out in New Hampshire, has left me a little cold, and more than a little wary.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on political trends or the Free State movement itself. And I don’t begrudge anyone their personal beliefs or philosophy, even in this polarized age.

But the problem I have with the Free Staters in New Hampshire, from what I’ve seen so far, is that their activities often needlessly inconvenience other well-meaning people in an in-your-face way that seems anything but public-spirited.

Two examples come to mind.

First, there’s the case in Keene of Free Staters battling the city over parking meters and the associated fines, which I suppose are a symbol of oppressive city government out of control. I don’t disagree with that.

Whatever the merits of their protest, I think the folks involved in this went way too far in harassing the poor enforcement people who were just doing their jobs, so much so that the city sought a restraining order to protect its employees. Too far! And not the way to gain anyone’s sympathy for your ideas.

And then there was the case of a farmers market up in Concord. Like anywhere else, vendors each contributed a fee to take part and cover expenses.

But then a Free Stater set up a nearby lemonade stand without paying anything, and without getting needed permission from the local health department. This led to confrontations with organizers and eventually police, all of which was videotaped and then posted online as another example of out-of-control government.

Really? I don’t think so. To me, it’s an example of trouble-makers who put their own agenda over the concerns of volunteers and organizers trying to do something good for their community. And that’s an important part of life in New Hampshire that I don’t want to see devalued or disrupted.

It’s hard enough to get people involved in a community. By holding up volunteers to shame and ridicule, the Free Staters only weaken that desire, which would seem to go against their credo of letting people be free to do their own thing.

I do think that some of the pre-election warnings about Free Staters in Bedford were a little over the top. Former town councilor Bill Greiner said Day and Philips had moved to town “to make radical and anarchistic changes that would be extremely detrimental to the quality of life in Bedford.”

I don’t buy that. But at the same time, my concerns were enough for me to not color in that little oval next to either man’s name. There were other people to vote for, and I did.

And anyway, I felt validated the other day when I encountered a weather-beaten sign of one of the candidates lying on the ground outside McKelvie School, nearly a month after the campaign.

Geez, if someone can’t be bothered to retrieve signs, how would they do in managing local affairs?

Jeff Rapsis is a newspaper publisher, educator, silent film accompanist and caretaker of multiple dogs who lives in Bedford. He can be reached at jeffrapsis@gmail.com.

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