Nestled in the green, rolling hills of north-western New Hampshire (western highlands) is the sleepy little town of Grafton. Rural, small and quiet, comprised once of farms, gristmills and dairy farms, now mostly small family farms and modest houses, Grafton derives most of its economic fuel from the neighboring cities of Lebanon and Hanover and from neighboring Vermont.
Grafton has for centuries stayed out of the limelight of state and national politics like many small towns in rural New Hampshire and liked it that way. Unfortunately, since becoming the unwitting host to a libertarian/anarchist (capitalist anarchists) group and their bizarre mix of right-wing fringe nutters, Grafton has found itself forced into the news. Especially in the news are the processes of town government, because as many have learned, there’s no better place to find an anti-government anarchist libertarian than at a town meeting. And so we proceed to the focus on the recent town Deliberative Session and as observed by Susan Bruce, the oddly conflicting portrayals of the events that unfolded that day and then night.
One story, by the Valley News, the newspaper that represents the geographic area that includes the town of Grafton, paints a picture that according to sources close to Progressive Action New Hampshire who were there, accurately portray the meeting. The Valley News report also makes an effort to illustrate the tension and irritation with the regular few cranks, representing themselves as Free Staters or sympathizers. As was reported to Progressive Action NH and as Susan reports was noted in the Valley News, the meeting was an “11-hour slog”. Our source said it took him all the powers of discipline he had in him to stay awake during the petulant nitpicking and objections brought on by just a few Free Stater cranks.
But as Susan points out, the Union Leader, a Manchester based news-rag that has a strong reputation of slanted hyper-conservative news reporting, seems to paint a far different picture than that of the Valley News, or that relayed by citizens who were present. According to the Union Leader the meeting was as the writer states in the first paragraph,
“Although regular voters and their Free State-oriented brethren disagreed on a number of things during Saturday’s deliberative session, they were undeniably united by the confusion that dominated the proceedings and that at one point seemed to bring moderator Susan Frost to tears.”
The writer’s portrayal of the town moderator as crying? The writer states in the first paragraph “that at one point seemed to bring moderator Susan Frost to tears”. As Susan Bruce noted, the Union Leader did indeed decide to go there — to the dark and dirty dungeon of “weepy” slander the Union Leader once used against Edward Muskie so many decades ago to destroy his campaign and then used later by another conservative news reporter in an attempt to slander Hillary Clinton as she ran for president.
Apparently the writer just can’t let go of this and refers back to the moderator’s supposed “weepiness” not once but twice. Why did the writer feel so moved by this weepiness? How was the public served by this portrayal which not only seems a bit slanderous but at the very least a bit like the mean kid in the playground who looks to jab the shy one in the ribs to get him to cry so then he can mock him. Was the writer so excited about the efforts of Fellers and others of the Free Stater posse and their supposed government genius that he just got caught up in the excitement himself? Does the writer, like the Free Staters see every single individual who represents a position in government as the enemy, even ironically, when many of them seem so eager to serve in government?
The town elected her. Possibly she has more content than just whether or not she can handle the constant badgering of two or three nitwit cranks from some nefarious fringe organization. And might it be known some nefarious fringe organization that has made it clear over and over again that they represent an anarcho-capitalist ideology that believes all government must be dismantled and destroyed. A nefarious fringe organization that by the way, only to an outsider would seem to be the “brethren” of anyone in the town of Grafton that does not identify with their group. In fact, anyone who refers to any long-time or native residents of any New England town as some Huckleberry Hick bunch who just wrap their warm brotherly love around all new comers really has never experienced or lived in rural New England. We’ll not explain; natives and long-timers will know what we mean.
Of course the point returns to the fact that the Town of Grafton never asked for these cranks to appear on their doorstep. Most in Grafton don’t recall announcing their desire to be appointed the experimental ground-zero for the bizarre Free State Project social experiment of anarcho-capitalism. Ironically, the culture in most small New England towns of “live and let live” runs strong and thus no one batted an eye when a few came in with their battered travel trailers and motor homes and announced they were going to setup utopia.
If you talk to any old-timers around those parts you’ll find they’ve seen it all before. Even some old relics of those idealistic dreamers of a back to the country lifestyle still remain scattered around those parts; broken down cabins, a lone chimney in front of an idyllic small pond (that has a story we’ll not tell here for the sake of brevity) or comments like, “Oh yeah, that old hippie-house.” They come, do their thing and then move on when their imagined boom trickles to a bust.
Nope, no one thought much of the aspirations of these new newcomers and let them be. Until of course they began to meddle in local politics in a way that rattled more than just a few local town folk. Cut the entire budget by ten percent? We all know where that went last year. Also some Free Staters ran for public office, such as Jeremy Olsen and were immediately roundly opposed and some, such as Brian Fellers, ran for public office as a Planning Board member. As with many small towns invaded by these people, its only after the election dust has settled and they open their big mouths and expose their shriveled little minds and hearts that they reveal themselves.
The Union Leader writer seems enamored with the Free Staters. No doubt, since to the simple-minded they seem like a bunch of fun-loving folks who just want some budgetary sense. Right? No. Not when, as even the Union Leader pointed out, someone like Brian Fellers steps in,
“Brian Fellers then asked that the budget be reviewed by department, and later motioned to cut the appropriation for government operations from $249,103 to $49,103. That motion subsequently also failed…”
He wanted the town budget cut by more than half. Of course this undiscovered genius of municipal management was overruled by the rest of those present. Apparently the Union Leader writer, (most possibly a cub reporter) had never attended a town meeting or deliberative session? Possibly the writer might like to try sitting in on a few Board of Alderman meetings in the UL’s hometown of Manchester and then report back on the level of intelligence and organization occurring there? It appears that the writer couldn’t stomach the entire deliberation as the story ends at lunch-time. We’d think that said writer might have far more empathy for the tortured residents of Grafton had he also had to sit in that room until late into the evening that Saturday night. Surely he had plans that night, but for the town of Grafton the plan consisted of giving audience to the new town jesters.
The fact remains though, despite the efforts of an outsider news reporter with an outsider agenda, that the folks of the town of Grafton knew damn well what was going on, were not about to let it happen and stayed to the bitter end to make sure a few outsider cranks didn’t ruin their town by strangling the budget or the process.
Some of the brilliant warrant articles obviously proposed by Free Staters, which were either pushed aside for procedural/legal reasons or not recommended or supported by the majority of Grafton residents: (besides cutting the budget six ways to Sunday with no rhyme or reason involved)
From the Town record distributed that day: (all of which the selectman did not recommend)
– To see if the Town will vote to instruct the Chief of Police to not prosecute any matter relating to the use or possession of cannabis. [We’re not making a value judgment about pot, just noting two things: a) they don’t understand how government laws, rules and jurisdiction works and b) libertarians and especially Free Staters just love them some pot. Contrary to the their claims, they seem less concerned about the drug war overall and more about just getting busted for their stash.]
– To see of the Town will instruct the Select Board and the Budget Committee to reduce the operating budget by ten percent for the next three years. [The town voted to recommend a budget increase instead and this article was withdrawn by the petitioner after they were informed that state law requires deferring to an attorney.]
– To see if the Town will vote to establish an ordinance to discourage or otherwise prevent fraud and abuse of office at the local level. The title of this ordinance shall be “Fraud Remediation Ordinance for Small Towns” (F.R.O.S.T.). This ordinance requires any Town official found to have committed fraud, which includes falsification of public documents, to be removed from office forthwith. [Free Staters and their right-wing cohorts love them some constitutional contractural language like “forthwith”. Its also worth noting that Grafton has never had a problem with fraud and town officials].
– To see if the Town will vote to preclude the Town from paying the personal legal expenses and personal medical expenses of any Town official. [Again, no one has mentioned a problem with a runaway budget of legal and medical expenses for town officials].
– To see if the Town will vote to require all funding for the Grafton Public Library to be on a voluntary basis, (no use of taxation). [Don’t these people love to refer to the “founding fathers” as the cornerstone of their claimed Great Constitutional and Patriot Knowledge? What would Ben Franklin think of this?]
– To see if the Town will vote not withstanding Warrant Article #2, to set the operating budget for Public Safety: Police at $10,000.
– To see if the Town will vote to preclude any Town offical and the use of any Town funds to cooperate with the National Security Agency (NSA). [This of course is a federal issue, but according to conspiracy theorists, NSA is hiding under your bed right now — better look!]
And on and on it goes, a long 42 Warrant Articles of which the majority comprise a mish-mash of right wing conspiracy theories, anti-government crankery and libertarian scrooginess. From attempting to re-write the bylaws of the Town through the Warrant Article process to attempting to completely undo public departments and even going so far as to propose that Grafton study withdrawing from the school district that serves a whole cluster of towns in the area. What do these budget luminaries propose that the little town of Grafton do? Build its own school? After the Free Nuts cut the town budget?