I’m heading to Sacramento, but don’t celebrate yet.

I’m heading to Sacramento, but don’t celebrate yet.

The Orange County Register, September 19, 2009

Many readers, especially those who receive large public pensions, will no doubt be thrilled to hear the news. This is the penultimate column I’m writing for the Register as a staff member. I’m heading to the belly of the beast, Sacramento, to start a news bureau and investigative journalism project for a free-market think tank – Pacific Research Institute – as part of the “new wave” of journalistic endeavors sprouting up across the media horizon. You’ll still see my column in the Register on a somewhat regular basis, although it will have a more state-oriented focus. (Of course, as an outside writer, I’ll probably have to file columns that are a lot shorter than my usual, but that’s life outside the ivory tower!)

I’m not leaving because of troubles in the newspaper industry or any recent news about Freedom Communications, the parent company of the Register. Newspapers – and this one in particular – will be around for a long time, even if they must adjust to being one source of information rather than the source of information. Those of us who advocate free markets don’t always like the results of what we see (especially when it affects our own lives), but open competition is the best way to maintain a vibrant and free society. Journalism is thriving these days because of the wide-open Internet world, and I’m eager to try my hand at something entrepreneurial.

Mainly, I’ve been troubled for some time now that California’s enormous government is getting too little attention from all sources of media. I love commentary writing, but also enjoy digging up dirt and uncovering waste, fraud and abuse in government. That’s what I’ll be doing in Sacramento, along with a small team of reporters and stringers that I’ll be putting together. Sacramento is the ultimate target-rich environment, given its spendthrift proclivities.

California is still a wonderful state. Unfortunately, the state government, if left unrestrained, would tax and regulate us into oblivion. Its mere existence is a prime impediment to our freedom and well-being. It needs to be watched – and not just the big budget and other battles. Someone needs to look more closely at the crevices.

Don’t worry about local stuff – the Register will continue in its tradition of editorial oversight of the local politicians who waste your money and abuse their power. Editorial Page Editor Cathy Taylor might call on me on occasion to excoriate some misbehaving local elected official just for old times’ sake, so mind your p’s and q’s. And my replacement, to be announced soon, will not be a shrinking violet. For those union officials who still are smiling: My new book on public employee unions will be in bookstores in time for Thanksgiving. It will really annoy you.

Fourteen years ago, I moved away from the world of consumer magazine writing (I was building and remodeling editor at Better Homes and Gardens) and started writing about politics and government. It’s been an entertaining journey – not just the change in subject matter or moves from Iowa to Ohio to California. This has been a fascinating intellectual and ideological journey, as I’ve moved from a mainstream conservative Republican to a fire-breathing libertarian.

The more I’ve covered government, the more I’ve realized, to paraphrase a libertarian saying, that there’s nothing government can do for you that you can’t do for yourself better and more inexpensively. Government is about force – there’s nothing more to it than that. Its sole function should be to serve as a sort of referee, to protect our God-given rights to life, liberty and property and let everything else get hammered out in the private world of willing buyers and sellers.

Unfortunately, government has become gargantuan. It intrudes on every aspect of our lives. Its officials and agents have become a pampered and protected elite. The larger and more intrusive government becomes, the less capable it is of handling its main responsibilities. Note how the state of California used to spend 40 percent of its far smaller budget on infrastructure, but now spends about 3 percent on roads, bridges and aqueducts, as it squanders tax dollars on everything from outsized pensions to solar initiatives. Instead of protecting our natural rights, the government – and the one in Sacramento in spades – has become the main threat to those rights, a situation that would have not surprised the nation’s founders or any of the great libertarian thinkers.

I know. Enough already. You’ve read my rants for the past 11 years.

Thanks for sticking with me. I owe a debt of gratitude to this company, aptly named Freedom Communications, for giving me a chance to advocate its core ideas. It’s been an honor and privilege to work for Freedom and to work for you, our readers. Again, you’ll be seeing more of my writing. If you have story ideas after this month, e-mail them to me at [email protected]

I’ll leave you with a favorite quotation from one of my heroes, the great classical liberal journalist, H.L. Mencken: “The men the American public admires most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”

I know this newspaper – in the tradition of its cantankerous libertarian founder, R.C. Hoiles, will continue to tell the truth regardless of what others think about it. I promise to do the same from Sacramento.

Contact the writer: [email protected] or 714-796-7823

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Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.