Political Ligthning Rod Planted on New Hampshire Farmhouse
When Tina Pelletier opened the mail at Town Hall the other day, a check for $100 fell out. Someone from out of state wanted to make reservations at Weare’s first hotel.
But the bed-and-breakfast envisioned on a remote site at the end of a dirt road is little more than a political activist’s pipedream. The eight-acre parcel is still owned -- although seldom occupied -- by U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter.
A proposal to seize Souter’s 200-year-old home and replace it with a commercial development follows the high court’s 5-4 decision June 23 on government seizure of private property by eminent domain. Souter sided with the majority to rule that governments can displace private citizens in the economic interest of the community.
Los Angeles political activist Logan Darrow Clements said he was overwhelmed by the response since his website (www.freestarmedia.com) floated the notion of claiming Souter’s property shortly after the Kelo vs. New London decision.
“People are not just supportive, they are enthusiastic like I have never seen before in my life,” said Clements, 36. He said thousands of people had contacted him to cheer his “Lost Liberty Hotel” project.
“It has taken on a life of its own,” he said. “People are practically throwing money at me. They want to invest in the hotel.”
But officials in Weare, a town of 8,500, did not welcome the plan to build a resort on Souter’s homestead. Four of Weare’s five selectmen issued a terse reply to Clements’ letter inquiring about pursuing the hotel project.
“We have no desire to take land from any owner, even when a legal taking is possible,” the selectmen wrote.
Clements, a follower of the social and political philosophy of Ayn Rand, said he was investigating the possibility of recalling the selectmen. He said he was confident his project would go through.
“The whole project is symbolic, but that doesn’t mean we don’t plan on doing it for real,” he said. “I believe I could actually do it.”
Clements described himself as an objectivist, explaining: “If you head toward libertarian and keep going, that is objectivism.” In 2003 he ran for governor in California as an objectivist and received 274 votes.
Clements also supports the Free State Project, an effort to move 20,000 libertarians to New Hampshire in order to influence state government.
He is an MBA who has turned his political leanings into a career, through Web journalism as well as a reality television show he is trying to develop about “people standing up against out-of-control governments.” Clements said the winners on his “Survivor"-like program would not walk away with millions of dollars, “but they would win the admiration of millions of people.”
Unfortunately, Clements said, “left-wing Hollywood has not rushed to embrace” his idea.
He said he had never visited Weare, a village about 15 miles from Concord that dates back to the 18th century, and had only seen pictures of Souter’s rickety farmhouse.
The house -- with dark brown paint peeling off and frayed window shades pulled down -- sits on an unmarked lane off of South Sugar Hill Road. One of the justice’s neighbors is the Sugar Hill Speedway, a go-kart track. Chickens wander in and out of nearby home sites. Rusty pickups and creaky farm equipment litter many front yards. Giant greenhead flies eagerly attack visitors.
“This is just crazy,” said Winnie Ilsley, 77, who runs a store called Winnie’s Little World at the end of Sugar Hill Road. “That hotel is never going to happen.”
Clements said he chose Souter as a target because “it had to be somebody. It is easier to go after one person than to go after all five” justices.
Besides, he said: “Souter is a Republican who was picked by Republicans. I want to wake America up to the fact that Republicans frequently behave just the same as Democrats.” Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Souter would not comment about the plan to build a resort on his property.
But many in the “Live Free or Die” state disagree with Souter’s position in the case.
The majority of justices held that because a proposed office park and hotel would provide greater tax revenue for the city of New London, Conn., than would the longtime homeowners, the dwellings could be razed for the development.
In a recent University of New Hampshire poll, 93% of state residents said they opposed the taking of private land through eminent domain for the kind of private development envisioned in New London.
“It was just an overwhelming response,” said poll director Andrew Smith. “I was very surprised. You never see those sorts of numbers in public opinion polls. This opposition cut across the board -- it was all ages, all political leanings, all regions.”
Weare software engineer Joshua Solomon said the hotel proposal gave his town the chance to show that “we are not going to protect Justice Souter from his own rules.”
He said Weare had “financial issues, just like every other town in the country, and this would create a nice little revenue-generating business. A quaint country inn is something that people will go to. It would become a historical landmark: land that used to belong to a Supreme Court justice -- land that showed that one small town in America stood up and said no.”
Pelletier said the $100 check that fell out of the mail would be returned, along with other contributions sent from around the country. (Weare’s tax collector, she happened to be opening the mail because the town clerk was on vacation.)
Pelletier said she doubted the hotel plan would come to fruition. For one thing, “anybody who has been there knows it is the furthest thing possible from a worthwhile location. It is right on the flood plain.”
And the prospect of a hotel in Weare is laughable, she said.
“We just got a Dunkin’ Donuts,” she said. “We don’t have a pharmacy. We don’t have a dry cleaners. What would we do with a hotel?”