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Free State Project taps Maine state senator as its next leader

Eric Brakey speaks while holding a microphone
Gage Skidmore
/
Flickr Creative Commons
Maine State Sen. Eric Brakey speaks with attendees at the 2022 Hazlitt Summit hosted by the Young Americans for Liberty Foundation in Orlando, Florida.

The New Hampshire Free State Project has a new executive director. Eric Brakey, a 35-year-old Republican state Senator from Maine, will lead the libertarian group that aims to attract out-of-staters to the Granite State and “turn the tide against big government.”

Brakey brings a long — and in many ways more conventional — political resume to his new job leading the Free State Project, which has often portrayed itself as a renegade force in New Hampshire politics.

An Ohio native, he directed Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign in Maine, before becoming a politician himself, winning election to the state Senate there in 2014, and mounting failed bids for U.S. Senate in 2018 and Congress in 2020.

After a stint in Texas working for Young Americans for Freedom, a political organization dedicated to getting liberty-minded candidates elected to state legislatures, Brakey returned to Maine, where in 2022 he again won election to the Maine Senate.

Brakey, who works as a substitute elementary school teacher when the Maine Senate is not in session, said in an interview Thursday that his decision to lead the Free State Project was partly motivated by wanting more time to have a family. But he also said he sees New Hampshire as the lone state in the region where libertarian-minded lawmakers appear to be getting their way on policies ranging from gun rights to education.

“I’ve just been impressed, steadily, by things like the remarkable school choice legislation, the Education Freedom Accounts that were passed,” Brakey said. “I think there are some really interesting things happening in New Hampshire, and I think it’s in large part because of the Free State movement.”

Brakey joins the Free State Project at a time of prominence and controversy.

The libertarian group, founded in 2001, has become an increasingly influential factor in Republican politics here. More than a dozen Free State Project members have served in the state Legislature, including House Majority Leader Jason Osborne.

But the group has also been plagued by infighting among some of its more prominent members.

The Free State Project board — including founder Jason Sorens and longtime leader Carla Gericke — ousted Jeremy Kauffman, the tech-entrepreneur and former U.S. Senate candidate, from the group's board earlier this year over provocative and at times racist posts Kauffman made on the Free State Project's social media accounts.

Brakey will start his job Friday and lead the project from Maine until his legislative term is up next year. He said he hopes to spend part of next week in New Hampshire, getting personally acquainted with the Free State Project.

“I'm really going to be trying to immerse myself in the communities and get my sea legs,” he said.

Kauffman, for one, seemed eager to welcome Brakey, writing “Welcome home” in a social media post.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.