It’s an abbreviated work week, what with America’s Independence Day holiday approaching. But as California and the rest of America prepare to celebrate the republic’s 248th birthday, I ask that freedom be bestowed upon one product of the Golden State.

My request: let Joey eat . . . in Coney Island.

I’m referring to Joey Chestnut, the San Jose State University graduate and king glutton of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest (last year, he downed 62 dogs in 10 minutes to claim his 16th mustard-yellow belt). But not this year, as Mr. Chestnut and the event’s sponsor suffered a parting of ways. Long story short: a beef involving beef franks and vegan hotdogs.

One virtue of life in Francis Scott Key’s “land of the free”: when one door closes, another sometimes opens. And that’s true for Joey Chestnut, who’ll be spending his Independence Day in El Paso, Texas, competing against soldiers in Fort Bliss’s annual Pop Goes the Fort celebration.

Freedom should be on the mind of Californians this week, and not just because of the upcoming holiday. The word’s long been a favorite of California governor Gavin Newsom—sadly, in partisan and exaggerated terms.

Consider last week’s State of the State address delivered by Newsom—a virtual speech that, after its delay for several months, turned out to be a rehash of the governor’s second inaugural address of 17 months prior, when he pitched the notion of California as a bulwark against tyranny (picture an ten o’clock scholar recycling an old term paper so as to receive a barely passing grade).

“We are presented with a choice between a society that embraces our values and a world darkened by division and discrimination,” Newsom orated in remarks delivered online, not live in front of the state legislature as is the usual practice in Sacramento. “Once again, our state and this legislature are called upon to show America that an agenda of freedom over fear is not only achievable, it’s inevitable”

In Newsom’s mind, the California of 2024 finds itself in the America of 1939, with right-wing jackboots on the march.

And who’s leading this would-be charge of would-be brownshirts?

In Newsom’s words:

For conservatives and delusional California bashers, their success depends on our failure. They want to impeach the very things that have made us successful, as a tactic to turn America toward a darker future. They do so in the name of “liberty” and “freedom.” They want to roll back social progress, social justice, racial justice, economic justice, clean air, clean water, and basic fundamental fairness. They would cleave America from the principles of freedom and the rule of law. And in the process, throw our economy and, in many respects, society as we’ve known it, into chaos.

To make this strained historical parallel, Newsom referenced Culbert Olson, California’s 29th governor, elected in 1938, and the answer to the trivia question of who was the last California head of state to be denied a second term by his constituents.

Here’s what Olson said in his lone inaugural address, two days into 1939 and eight months before Nazi Germany invaded Poland, kicking off six years of global strife:

As we witness destruction of democracy elsewhere in the world, accompanied by denial of civil liberties and inhuman persecutions, under the rule of despots and dictators, so extreme as to shock the moral sense of mankind, it seems appropriate that we Californians, on this occasion, should announce to the world that despotism shall not take root in our State; that the preservation of our American civil liberties and democratic institutions shall be the first duty and firm determination of our government.

For any California governor, Olson is a curious role model—and not just because his political career came to an abrupt end. He managed to stir up a hornet’s nest upon entering office, refusing to recite “so help me God” while taking the gubernatorial oath of office (one of Olson’s more memorable quotes: “Yes, I’m an atheist, but if you want to know where hell is, try and be the governor of California”).

But in a supposed land of the free, Olson wasn’t a champion of the free market, at one point telling Californians:

To my way of thinking, it is the social responsibility of government in promoting the general welfare to exercise control and stabilization of the national economy, to plan and provide for full employment when private industry fails; to prevent business cycles which result in industrial depressions; to provide the ways and means of making available to all the people health protection, and the utmost in educational services; to protect the national resources against wasteful exploitation for private greed.

As it turns out, the delayed State of the State wasn’t the only moment in June when Newsom dropped “f bombs” (that’s “f” as in freedom). Here’s part of a statement the governor’s office released on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision involving reproductive rights:

Conservative lawmakers and judges continue to attack abortion, IVF, and birth control, but those of us who cherish freedom and individual liberty will always protect these essential rights. If you are no longer able to get abortion care in your home state, California has the resources and support available to help you exercise your reproductive freedom—and we will always stand ready to fight.

A word (ok, many words of advice) to Newsom:

First, do your fellow Californians a favor and lighten up on the “freedom” rhetoric. For one thing, it echoes the Biden campaign message of democracy at stake (was it a coincidence that soon after Newsom gave his address, he hopped a plane to Atlanta to work the presidential debate “spin room”?).

Second, if the governor does want to focus on “freedom,” perhaps he should approach the concept from a different perspective: what level of freedom (from government) that his fellow Californians enjoy.

Here, I’m going to “break the fourth wall,” as they say in television, with a few personal anecdotes about life in California.

For myself, last week’s adventures included the joy of paying the annual fee for my automobile’s registration—$300 owed to the state for my 2016-model vehicle, plus another $108 for a “smog check” as mandated by the state’s Clean Air Act, signed into law by then governor Ronald Reagan (here’s how the state calculates the registration fee).

Only, the car didn’t pass its first emissions test, forcing its sad-sack owner to drive up and down the local highways in hopes of getting the vehicle’s finicky oxygen sensor fully engaged.

That drive would have ended much sooner if not for portions of Highway 101 in the northernmost stretch of Silicon Valley suffering from gridlock (this was close to noon, mind you), with two very unoccupied lanes reserved for high-occupancy vehicles—the state’s way of encouraging rideshares or buying electric vehicles. The fine for a lone-occupant gas guzzler drifting into said HOV lanes: a minimum $490 fine

The temptation, after that spin, was get past the annoyance with a long walk around the neighborhood, maybe puffing on a cigar. Only, lighting up in the vicinity of downtown Palo Alto can result in fines ranging from $250 to $500.

Fine, then, no lighting of a cigar. Far better to wait a few days and light up some fireworks on Independence Day. But not in this neck of Northern California. In the town of Menlo Park, which is adjacent to Palo Alto, the local gendarmes have issued this all-points bulletin: “Anyone found using or in possession of fireworks . . . is subject to citations of $1,000 and/or arrest of up to six months in county jail.”

And if one should engage in a little rebellion, à la the spirit of 1776, and dare to shoot off fireworks? Be careful how you clean up the debris. In Palo Alto, the fine for using a gasoline-powered leaf blower can run as high as $1,000.

This is not to suggest that a life in California is always one of regulations set in stone for perpetuity. Indeed, that portion of the California electorate who is fed up with government-fueled behavior modification will sometimes earn a victory. In March, for example, the city of Berkeley agreed to halt the enforcement of its first-in-the-nation ban on installing natural gas piping in newly constructed buildings (this decision made after a lawsuit by the California Restaurant Association prompted a four-and-a-half-year legal odyssey).

But otherwise, survival in California depends upon developing a high threshold for government-induced pain—taxation, overregulation, and the progressive mindset that the administrative state is a font of wisdom.

That requires understanding that not all fees and regulations are a bad idea. While the “smog check” isn’t a California fan favorite (back in the 1990s it prompted angry protests at the State Capitol), I’m glad to chip in $108 to bid adieu to big-city smog.

But there are limits to the public’s patience, which is worth remembering as we reflect on the actions and the mindset of America’s Founding Fathers at this point in the summer of 1776.

That’s 1776, not 1939.

One looks forward to Governor Newsom’s next State of the State address, whenever that will be in 2025.

One also hopes that should he choose to continue with the theme of freedom, the governor take a different tack: making it easier for his fellow Californians to enjoy personal freedom despite the nanny state’s encroachments.

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