The New Hugh

OCs highest-profile Republican is a liberal in his own back yard

But then, in the spring of 1999, Hewitt became a leader in the community struggle against the Irvine Co.'s development of what is locally known as Planning Area 27—a rolling, pastoral piece of land almost literally in Hewitt's Turtle Rock back yard. He fought the company with a fervor a Leftist could only envy, turning Planning Area 27 into a moral issue: "[T]he [Irvine] Company has recognized that its stature in Irvine is crumbling," he wrote in the OC Metro. "The camouflage of concern for the 'master plan' is gone." He even accused the company of pulling political strings and abusing the freedom of the press in its company-owned community weekly, The Irvine World News.

If you have followed Hewitt at all, you will admit that you never thought you'd see such a day: Hewitt challenging a developer's right to build whatever, wherever and whenever it pleased and publicly disputing the independence of the Irvine Co.'s newspaper.

But the best moment came when Hewitt argued that the environmental-impact report for Planning Area 27 was "fatally flawed" because—of all things—it failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act, which, per Hewitt, "all but guarantees a winning legal challenge."

Planning Area 27 will still be built, but thanks to Hewitt and many others—including the diabolical forces behind the Endangered Species Act—it will be reduced in scale and impact.

But Hewitt's role in the Irvine parcel-tax battle produced the most complete illustration of the New Hugh—involving taxes, property rights, a local government agency and public education. This, after all, was the same Hewitt who argued in the Los Angeles Times that George Bush would beat Bill Clinton in 1992 because the American people are "allergic" to taxes. A few months later, Hewitt predicted in a Times essay that Pete Wilson would win re-election in 1994 because "the bottom line was the one conservatives have always demanded—a balanced budget with no new taxes." In 1995, Hewitt vanquished—in debate after debate and in the election itself—the proponents of Measure R, the proposed sales-tax hike presented as the only way for the county to survive from bankruptcy.

But taxes were only a symptom of a greater evil: big government. Observing Orange County for the Los Angeles Times, Hewitt discerned in 1992 "a county reeling under the disconnected and chaotic commands of Eastern Europe-styled ministries." "Thousands of jobs that would have been created in the home-building industry did not materialize as layer after layer of complicated regulations was piled upon proposed compromises," Hewitt argued in 1994, again in the Times. Especially intriguing, in the light of his support of the parcel tax, were his observations on the expansion of "the administrative state" in the conservative July 1998 Weekly Standard. "Especially at the local level," Hewitt observed, government is out of control "and needs new tax revenue, without which it cannot grow."

Taxes are bad. Government is always growing and grasping. And public education? The old Hewitt argued in the Times in November 1992, "Most parents are dismayed by a school system that cannot seem to improve no matter how much it is studied or how much money is thrown at it." The cure? How about vouchers? "Orange County is a hotbed for choice sentiment," Hewitt observed approvingly in 1992. A year later, when former state Senator Marian Bergeson failed to win confirmation as Wilson's state superintendent of schools, a disappointed Hewitt predicted in the OC Metro that "the voucher fight [would] take on added urgency. For if Marian Bergeson is not worth having as superintendent, then the suspicion grows that only strong medicine will cure public education's ills."

Those who believe Hewitt is still a conservative might point to another recent event: when so-called New Directions Republicans tried to purge the local party of social conservatives during the last election, Hewitt opposed them at every opportunity. But he did even that with a liberal flourish: he denounced them in the most Marxian terms as "rich, white guys."

Thus Hugh Hewitt, the Che Guevara of the ruling class.

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