Fighting good fight for freedom!

SEPT. 13, 2010

I, as a nattering nabob, see negativism everywhere. The Legislature manages to do just about everything wrong. The Obama administration – like the Bush administration – is an embarrassment bordering on a disaster. Debt is rising, freedom is receding, and our governments keep getting bigger and more wasteful.

But even I can’t avoid the hopeful signs apparent almost everywhere. I spoke Tuesday to about 300 conservatives in Silicon Valley about the problem of public employee pensions. This group was energized by local election prospects in November. It’s a long shot for conservatives to expect big wins in the Bay Area, but don’t try telling that to any of the activists who were in attendance. Up the road, in San Francisco, Public Defender Jeff Adachi jumped through the final legal hurdle recently and has placed a serious pension reform measure on the November ballot. If reform can happen in San Francisco, it can happen anywhere.

And Sept. 3, I spent the afternoon with Steve Kubby, the former Libertarian Party gubernatorial nominee and presidential candidate, who is running for City Council in South Lake Tahoe on an unabashedly freedom-oriented platform. This is no kamikaze mission. He has a serious shot at winning. South Lake Tahoe is a small city (population about 23,500), but his candidacy is the latest sign that Californians are trying to change things wherever they can. More Americans are taking this tack, as the tea partiers – despite their inconsistencies and flaws – seem to suggest.

Kubby is best known as a medical marijuana activist – a co-author of Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana in California for medical uses in 1996. He was targeted by state and federal agencies following that successful battle and served time in jail. He became something of a martyr for the movement because his jail term, which almost deprived him of his marijuana treatments, threatened his health. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he was given six months to live – 35 years ago – and has been using marijuana as his sole medication ever since. Critics of medical marijuana say his story is merely anecdotal. “I didn’t die,” he said jokingly. “It is just anecdotal, but I’ll take anecdotal.”

His felony drug conviction not only was expunged, but was “dismissed in the interest of justice.” The county sheriff personally apologized to him for his ordeal, yet city governments – including South Lake Tahoe’s – have been trying to clamp down on the innocuous “wellness clinics” that provide marijuana to sick people who have a doctor’s prescription.

“For years, police said, if you don’t like the law, change it,” Kubby told me during our interview at a café near Lake Tahoe. “So we changed it.” Yet officials continue to circumvent the law and prosecute clinics and growers. Since his release, Kubby has been developing a business that provides marijuana in lozenge form – thus eliminating the need for smoking – and is trying to take that product through federal drug-approval channels.

His story is full of entertaining tidbits. For instance, after he was diagnosed with cancer he was introduced to his life-saving marijuana by his college roommate, Richard “Cheech” Marin of Cheech & Chong fame. You can’t make this stuff up.

Despite my persistent questioning, Kubby didn’t want to focus on the subject of marijuana. “My [council] campaign is no more about marijuana than the Boston Tea Party was about tea,” he said. He wanted to talk about South Lake Tahoe’s punitive level of regulations on businesses, about “keeping government’s big, ugly nose out of our lives,” about protecting property rights and civil rights. And, about the hole.

Actually, he hates it when people refer to the site of a failed downtown redevelopment project as a hole. “I refuse to call something 12 acres across a hole. It’s a crater.”

This crater sits along Lake Tahoe Boulevard at Stateline Avenue. Across Stateline, of course, lies Nevada and all the casinos. Officials used eminent domain and city pressure, Kubby explained, to level 44 businesses. The crater was intended to become a convention center. The deal collapsed, and the only thing built was the concrete foundation. It remains an eyesore and a sore spot with the city.

Kubby complains about South Lake Tahoe’s $200 million in bonded redevelopment debt to fund what became the crater and other redevelopment projects, and about the subsidies the redevelopment agency ladles out to developers, who build cookie-cutter projects at odds with the city’s mountain-resort charm.

“When did anyone get a chance to vote on this?” he said. “They never did. It strains my mind that a town can incur that kind of debt for 45 years, and there was never a vote. Well, the council voted on it.” The city has a history, by the way, of making poor redevelopment decisions and of abusing eminent domain.

“I’m participating in public debate about government’s role,” he said. “It’s a liberal town. Liberals love government, but a lot of people are growing [medical] marijuana here and selling it. Marijuana is [helping to keep] this town solvent.”

Kubby always turns the topic back to the basics of government. He thinks local roads at places resemble those found in Third World countries. He says “businesses have had it – they are so fed up with the rules, regulations and license fees.” He wants to cut the number of city jobs and free up money that could spark new jobs in the private sector.

Kubby, a libertarian, wants to create a freedom revolution in his city. Just as those conservative activists in Silicon Valley want to enhance freedom in their region. And just as those San Francisco progressives want to reduce the power of the public employee unions in their union-controlled city. I’m still nattering about our seemingly insurmountable problems, but I’m also heartened by the efforts of diverse groups of Californians to limit government and create a more freedom-friendly future. The revolution has to start somewhere!

–Steven Greenhut

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