What does it mean to be "free"?
Rather than quoting the words of statesmen and philosophers to answer that question, I'd like to tell you a story about what I think it means to be free.
Germany was a tough place to live in the late 1800s - it was not a free country. Economic and living conditions were dire for most of the population and government policies only made the situation worse. Millions of Germans were leaving their homeland in search of greater opportunity in the United States.
News had spread to Europe of mining opportunities in the American West, so in March 1893, my great grandfather, William Oltmer, and his brother Henry, emigrated from their hometown near Bremen, Germany to the United States. Upon their arrival in New York, William and Henry headed straight to Idaho and ended up in Lemhi County working the mine at Leesburg (near Salmon). This was undoubtedly an exciting time for these two young men in their 20s who were experiencing true freedom for the first time in their lives.
A few years later, William met and married my great grandmother, Katherine, who had also emigrated from Germany to Idaho. Then in 1910, William started a business with his brother-in-law, Frederick Bolts. For 25 years, the Oltmer Bolts Flour Mill was a major producer of wheat products in central and eastern Idaho.
In addition to providing top quality products at an affordable price, the business was important to the Lemhi Valley because it employed many people. Their success also allowed them to give back to the community in countless other ways.
These two German immigrants were able to come to Idaho and build happy and prosperous lives from virtually nothing because of the political and economic freedom we enjoy here in the United States. Their lives would have undoubtedly been much different had they remained in Germany.
Every time you vote in an election, speak your mind, go to church, or bring home a paycheck, you are celebrating freedom. To this day, there are still many countries around the world that are not free - which is why people are still immigrating to the United States. Freedom is something we Americans should not take for granted.
According to a 2008 report by the Pacific Research Institute, Idaho is the second most economically free state in the country. That means when it comes to Idaho's fiscal, regulatory and judicial sectors, comparatively speaking we enjoy less government intervention and fewer restrictions than most other states in the country. But you don't need a study to tell you that - there's a reason we all choose to be Idahoans. We know this is a great place to live.
Our state isn't perfect, though. We are facing many challenges. We can do even better.
It is in that spirit that we are launching the Idaho Freedom Foundation. We want to make sure Idaho stays free, and that it continues to be a "laboratory of democracy" the rest of the country can look to as an example.
Times are tough right now - there's no question about it. But our country has been here before, we've always gotten ourselves out of it, and we'll do it again. And it won't be because of bailout money and stimulus packages. It will be because of the ingenuity of the American people.
Let's work together to keep Idaho free.