Greenhut: Libertarian Hewitt wins, sets example being ‘outspoken in the positions he championed’

Jeff Hewitt seated behind desk in office with dark wooden furniture, speaking to someone standing off camera, gesturing, wearing suit, tie, and his ‘City of Calimesa mayor’ name badge (color photo)

California Libertarian Jeff Hewitt, mayor of Calimesa and supervisor-elect for Riverside County’s District 5

In a January op-ed for the Orange County Register, public-employee pension expert Steven Greenhut praised as a “model for the state” Libertarian Mayor Jeff Hewitt’s work ending Calimesa’s dependence on the state’s fire-protection bureaucracy, enabling the city to avoid exorbitant pension costs.

Following a suspenseful ballot-counting process in a very tight race, Hewitt has garnered 51.9 percent of the votes and has been named the supervisor-elect in Riverside County, District 5.

In his latest op-ed, Greenhut not only credits Hewitt’s victory with his bold, concrete actions as mayor and his practical planks during an openly Libertarian campaign, but he cites those actions and planks as a model for other Libertarian officials, candidates, and prospective candidates.

From Greenhut’s Dec. 17 article in the Press-Enterprise, “Jeff Hewitt shows libertarians how to win”:

[I]t was with much enjoyment that I watched Libertarian candidate Jeff Hewitt certified as the winner of a seat on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.

In an election that saw Republican candidates obliterated for statewide and legislative seats, it was unusual seeing a Libertarian win a powerful office in one of the nation’s most-populous counties. These races are “nonpartisan,” but Calimesa Mayor Hewitt never hid his party affiliation. He beat a well-known Republican former assemblyman.

His victory offers some national political lessons, although Hewitt seems far more interested in rolling up his sleeves and addressing the county’s public-policy problems than he is in becoming the poster child for any party or movement.

Therein lies the key lesson. Winning candidates need to offer practical approaches that are appropriate for the offices they are seeking. “I’m not the guy to get rid of all your taxes or pull us out of Libya or stop the border wall,” Hewitt told me in an interview last week. “I don’t deal with any of that.”

But he does want to get the county’s unfunded pension liabilities under control, reduce regulations that limit housing supply and drive up home prices and implement other practical free-market reforms. As a Libertarian he’s not just Republican Lite. In fact, he first ran for City Council at the urging of a Democratic councilman who was retiring.

That brings us to another lesson: It takes a lot of work and commitment for any candidate to win a major election. He has been working toward this goal for 14 years, starting with a stint on the Planning Commission.

… Hewitt wasn’t running a symbolic candidacy. … [He said,] “You change things by being elected.”

So Hewitt did what all candidates do when they actually want to win an election. They craft a plan. They gain experience. They chalk up accomplishments. I wrote about Hewitt for this newspaper in January after he led Calimesa to end its costly Cal Fire contract and create its own fire department, thus enabling the city to innovate and cut costs. That helped him gain publicity and support from donors.

He also gained a key endorsement from the Press-Enterprise, which “strongly” endorsed him as “the rare sort of politician who can get straight to the point about the problems of county government and speak honestly about what needs to be done.”

Hewitt was down on Election Day, but like many other candidates on Nov. 6 he pulled ahead in the late vote tallies. That’s not a surprise. He said his campaign knocked on 60,000 doors and had a strong grassroots effort that was able to overtake the early voting, which tends in a more Republican direction. What’s the big deal?

That’s how one runs a successful political campaigns are run, you might be thinking. But that’s exactly my point: If Libertarians want to win elections, they need to embrace the same old-school retail politics that winning candidates embrace.

Hewitt told me that this was the hardest work he’s ever done — and he has a background digging thousands of swimming pools!

This leads to a final lesson. Hewitt did not discuss the kind of esoteric Libertarian issues that make Libertarians the butt of jokes, but he was refreshingly outspoken in the positions he championed. Addressing pension issues can be the kiss of death for politicians who must endure the wrath of the powerful police, fire and other unions. Indeed, his Republican opponent had a good bit of union support. Yet, Hewitt was able to win. Most important, he believes he has the skills to effect change, on a board where he’ll be a swing vote. Because he has years of experience dealing with pension matters at the city level, Hewitt says he is ready for the tough union negotiations that will come before the county government.

I’m not arguing that one victory in one county office will usher in a new era of Libertarian politics, but it’s proof that its candidates can at least occasionally be Winnertarians if they practice some tried-and-true political strategies.

Steven Greenhut is senior fellow and western region director of the R Street Institute, and author of Plunder: How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives, and Bankrupting the Nation.

Read the full Press-Enterprise article.

Read the Libertarian Party’s blog post about Greenhut’s Orange County Register column (Jan. 6, 2018) praising Mayor Hewitt’s work in Calimesa.

Libertarian candidates running for all levels of public office make bold campaign pledges such as “Nullify mandates on local government” and “Cut local property taxes 50%.” Read about the benefits of these pledges.