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Report: Arizona trails 10 states in overall freedom

WASHINGTON -- Arizona has a reputation as a state full of mavericks and independent thinkers, but a couple of academics have bad news for state residents.

We're No. 11.

The George Mason University report, Freedom in the 50 States, ranked Arizona 11th in the nation on a scorecard of personal and economic freedoms that takes into account everything from tax burden to seatbelt laws - to the freedom to party unfettered.

It may have been that bachelor-party ranking - Arizona finished 49th in the category that measured alcohol, prostitution and marijuana laws - that brought the state's overall standing down.

"We happily concede that different people value aspects of freedom differently," the report's authors wrote, by way of explaining why they break freedom into 40 different areas based on 200 types of policy.

The report, the third produced by George Mason's Mercatus Center, measured overall freedom by balancing tax policy and regulation - high points for Arizona - against personal freedoms, where Arizona lost ground.

Arizona was No. 1 for gun-control freedom, second for educational choice and 15th for its tax burden. The report made fiscal and regulatory policies count for almost 70 percent of the overall grade, which is why Arizona did well. The state moved up 12 places in the standings from the last report, in 2009.

Jason Sorens, a political science professor at State University of New York at Buffalo and one of the authors of the report, conceded that the final score is not a perfect measure of individual freedom. What they were trying for was an index that reflects the average American's idea of freedom, he said, an almost-impossible goal.

"Some people might be happy to pay taxes as long as everyone else is," Sorens said of the relative importance the report placed on freedom from taxation, for example.

The goal, Sorens said, is to "get people to think about what freedom means to them."

Blanca Guerra, a Libertarian from Tucson, has definite ideas about freedom - and concerns, as well.

Guerra said the recent fight over Mexican-American studies courses in the Tucson Unified School District, and Attorney General Tom Horne's vow to challenge Bisbee's recognition of civil unions showed a shift away from freedom.

"We're freedom-loving in Arizona. We don't like other people trying to change us, trying to restrict us," said Guerra, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last fall.

Marc Victor, the 2012 Libertarian nominee for Senate in Arizona, said the state's 11th-place ranking was appropriate.

"Arizona belongs at the top," he said.

But he agreed with the report that there is room for improvement, pointing to the long prison sentences required in victimless crimes as one problem area for individual freedom in the state. Victor said there should be greater tolerance of peaceful activities - such as medical marijuana use - that may be morally offensive to some but not harmful.

"People should be able to define and pursue their happiness the way they choose to," he said.

For now, if they choose to pursue happiness at a bachelor party, both Nevada and New Mexico are better bets, both finishing in the top five. Even Utah might be more fun, with a ranking of 23rd.

The state's overall ranking could have been worse: The authors did not factor in the controversial "papers please" provision of SB 1070, the Arizona law that requires local police to check the immigration status of suspects they reasonably believe might be here illegally.

Sorens said they may include the law in the future.

In the meantime, Arizonans can take heart that, among its neighbors, the state trails only Utah in overall freedoms and that it finished well ahead of California, which had an overall ranking of 49th. Only New York did worse.

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