Calvin Coolidge Comes to Grafton, Part I

The Town Seal of Grafton, NH
To spend more, or not to spend more? That was the question in the town of Grafton

Calvin Coolidge, President from 1923 through 1928, was a famous skinflint from Vermont. He didn’t believe in today’s political-class sport of incessant taxing and spending to win elections (Grokster Steve MacDonald has recently highlighted this excellent president HERE). Coolidge was so adept at refusing the pigs at the political trough in his time that he insisted that “government employees were issued one pencil at a time, and the government purchased lighter, less expensive paper. The Weather Bureau stopped sending out postcard forecasts, since citizens now turned to their newspapers for that information; the post office made bags with new, cheaper material, and government-wide red tape was replaced with simple white string.” (This and much more is in a book review online at the City Journal about Amity Shlaes’ new biography entitled, simply, Coolidge.)

What does all this have to do with political piggery and push-back from small-government activists in the small town of Grafton, New Hampshire? I’ll tell you….

Last Tuesday there was an election in Grafton. Happily, prior to the election the larger question had devolved into a battle between those who want to reduce taxes and spending at the town level, and those who wanted the economically hard-hit town taxpayers to pay for more and bigger local government.

The “establishment,” as always, were those who wanted to increase taxing and spending (they want to do good things!). The upstarts, as is also usually the case, opposed increased town taxing and spending. It is an age-old conflict that reflects the constant pressure for more and bigger government at all levels (there is a reason for Thomas Jefferson’s famous maxim that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground”).

But in the town of Grafton, there has arisen a different dynamic. In the long twilight struggle between those who want more government, and those who want to be left alone, it is usually the former who have the upper hand. Not so in Grafton. It can even be said that the “leave-us-alone” upstarts are gaining the upper hand. (I have previously written about the new, local liberty-and-freedom warriors in “Those magnificent small-government activists of Grafton, New Hampshire.)

What is happening in Grafton is this: Native and long-time resident activists have been reinforced by many newly arrived conservatives and libertarians who have moved to New Hampshire (with some going to Grafton) under the impetus of the Free State Project. After all, the town of Grafton—with a population of about 1,350—is the southernmost town in New Hampshire that has rejected the property-control scam known as “zoning.” It is also the home of John Babiarz, the town’s volunteer fire department chief, former chairman of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire, and former libertarian candidate for Governor. The so-called “planning board” in Grafton—a political body that has traditionally abused local property owners while causing them thousands of dollars of unnecessary expenses—is headed up by Brian Fellers, a native of the town who has fought for years against routine local overspending and abuse of people’s property rights.There are many more such people in Grafton…and, happily, their numbers are growing.

So those in Grafton who push for the “natural order of things”—continual increased town budgets, continual increased taxes, continual increased spending—are now being challenged, and increasingly successfully. The choice in last Tuesday’s election had become one between a town budget that stayed static, the same as last year’s budget, and one that decreased town spending by a meager 10%.

Outrage! How did it happen that the townsfolk had a choice between a budget with no increase, and a budget that decreased spending in the town by 10%? In fact, the tax-and-spend hysterics in the town quickly “worked out the numbers” and shouted that the “true” reduction would actually be 13%. Yikes! We were all gonna DIE! As it happened, the liberty-and-freedom activists had come out in force at the town deliberative meeting a month before. At that meeting both the board of selectmen and the town budget committee (a group that supposedly exists to restrain overspending by boards of selectmen…but not in Grafton) originally wanted a larger town budget of $954,523 (after a previous-year 2012 budget of $940,366). But the townspeople at the meeting made sure instead that the choice would be between a static budget and a budget reduction. Yippee! said the activists. But…”Harrumph, harrumph! Unheard of! Impossible!” said the local pols.

The truth, however, was that the town budget could easily be reduced by 10% (or 13%) with little trouble, as libertarian town selectman candidate Jeremy Olson pointed out: “$128,000 can be cut from the budget without negatively impacting public services,” he said in a letter to the local pro-taxing, pro-spending newspaper (the letter of course wasn’t printed before the election). “If I can find $128,000 in the budget without doing so, why can’t they?” Mr. Olson asked.

Indeed. Why not?

Instead, the local selectmen-politicians sent out a letter (using town stationary) warning about dire consequences(!) if the town budget were “slashed!” (why is a small cut always called a “slash”?) by 13% (or 10%)…and the letter seemed to suggest that budget reductions might be implemented in such a way that the townsfolk would suffer, if the lower budget was passed. Funny thing about that: At the deliberative session town meeting, when the reduction was being debated (my previous motion to reduce the town budget by 20%, not a measly 10%, failed by one vote), I warned everyone about “the Washington Monument ploy”‘; this is where any government agency or bureaucrat threatened with ANY reduction in his precious spending will immediately retaliate against the public by making the most painful cuts in the most popular services (in Grafton that would be our one-man police department, road maintenance, and snow removal). BUT, I hastened to add, I was sure that our Grafton selectmen would never resort to such skullduggery. (One lady there was offended—offended!—that I would even suggest that the selectmen would even think of doing such a thing!)

And then the letter from the selectmen came out, warning every voter not to vote for the reduced town budget…or you may suffer! Imagine that.

So when the smoke cleared at the deliberative session, the choice had become between keeping the budget the same as the previous year, or reducing it by a few measly percentage points that could easily be achieved (if they wanted to).

The result was actually kind of comical: “We’re all gonna DIE!” if we voted for the budget reduction (well, in effect, at least).

And you know what happened? You know what the fools at the local newspaper and their regressive friends (not “progressives” please; such people have nothing to do with “progress”) said the morning after the election? Well!

Well…I think I’ll leave it there for now. I’ll pick up on the epic story, and finish it, shortly. I’ll tell you what happened  in Part II of this essay later. Maybe tomorrow.

I’ve been political my entire life, starting out with Barry Goldwater and The Conscience of a Conservative in the1960’s. In 1967 I enlisted in the U.S. Marines for four years, spending nearly two of them in South Vietnam. In 1972 I was a Florida presidential elector for Prof. John Hospers, the first Presidential candidate of the national Libertarian Party which was founded that same year. During the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s I was a contributing editor and monthly columnist for Reason magazine, and I’ve authored numerous articles in the print and online media about various subjects relating to individual rights and personal freedom. Today I’m a lawyer by profession; I divide my time between New Hampshire and Florida all year long, spending much of my time practicing law in Florida. As an early supporter and past member of the board of directors of the Free State Project, I was drawn to the Live Free or Die state of New Hampshire in late 2003 when it was chosen by a vote of the first 5,000 FSP participants. In 2004 I founded the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, and continue today to work within the state political system to advance the traditional NH values of frugal small government, low taxes, small business, free enterprise, and self-responsibility. To all, I say “Come and see what we are building in the beautiful, healthy, livable Free State of New Hampshire!”