Nearly every day, blogger Bob Weeks publishes news, analysis, and commentary on state
and local politics. It’s information readers can’t find anywhere else. He started the “Voice for Liberty,” in 2004. He is the 2013 winner of the Kansas Policy Institute’s John J. Ingalls Spirit of Freedom Award.
He was kind enough to answer the Sentinel’s 20 questions.
What inspired you to start blogging?
In 2004, there was an issue on the November general election ballot that I thought wasn’t being covered adequately in the local news media. It was the temporary sales tax to pay for what is now known as the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita. Since I knew how to use a computer and internet — I worked in IT for most of my career — naturally, I started a blog.
When did you start?
October 29, 2004.
How much time do you put into this?
Do you do it for love or money?
For love. From time to time there have been grants, but mostly for love.
What about politics irritates you the most?
Where do I start? One thing is that it is so difficult to tell when a politician — or a bureaucrat — is being truthful. We want to believe them — we’ve been taught to believe them — but when we do, what happens?
For example, progressives in Kansas criticize Gov. Sam Brownback for the anemic performance of the Kansas economy after he claimed the 2012 tax cuts would be a “shot of adrenaline.” The progressives claim this is refutation of the tax cuts. But it was just a boast by a politician, and we shouldn’t take these seriously.
I remember when President Obama said if we don’t pass the ARRA stimulus bill, the unemployment rate would rise above a certain level. Well, the stimulus passed, and the unemployment rate went above that level, and it was several years before it fell below. So unemployment was worse with the stimulus than Obama said it would be without the stimulus.
Something else that irritates me is the way that political arguments proceed. For example, a favorite topic of both Left and Right is the hypocrisy of the other side. With access to archives of material on the internet, it’s easy to find examples. But with hypocrisy roughly equally distributed, how does this advance someone’s argument or position?
Another example is when someone quotes a politician and says “Can you imagine the uproar if a Democrat said that?” Both sides use this technique. How does this help, except to let us know — if we’re really paying attention — that both sides are equally bad?
In general, politics and government are just about the worst way to provide goods and services, except in a few limited instances. For example, when voting for candidates, we can’t choose some policies from candidate A and others from candidate B to get the blend of policies that we prefer. We have to vote for the entire candidate. It’s A or B; nothing in between.
Contrast that with markets in the private sector. There we have a multitude of choices, say in grocery stores or restaurants. Companies compete — they advertise — for your business. With government, on the other hand, everything seems like a chore. Has your county treasurer ever sent you a thank you card for paying your property taxes on time? Do Kansas schoolchildren and teachers ever say “thank you” for the billions spent each year on public schools? Not very often. Instead, they complain — loudly and bitterly — and file lawsuits for more money. And, they oppose any of “their” money being spent where parents want, that is, on school choice programs.
Also irritating — if I may continue — are politicians and bureaucrats who are totally convinced that they know how best to provide for us, who believe it is they alone who know how to spend our money. I should mention that my wife says that I’m very confident and assertive in my political beliefs. True, I tell her, but I’m not prescriptive.
What is the most consequential story you’ve broken?
Perhaps in 2015 when I found that Sam Williams, who was candidate for Wichita mayor, was not entitled to use the term “CPA” (Certified Public Accountant). He never had such a license in the state of Kansas, and that license is required to use the title CPA. I don’t know if that contributed to his loss to Jeff Longwell, but it didn’t hurt Williams in the long run. He’s now the Kansas Secretary of Revenue. (If that story played a role in electing Longwell, I apologize to the people of Wichita. But the truth had to be told.)
A runner-up might be in 2010 when I discovered that Wink Hartman, who was running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Congress, and his wife had most recently voted in Florida instead of Kansas.
Really, these were easy stories. All it took was curiosity. CPA? Isn’t that a licensed occupation? Does he have the license? Say, doesn’t Hartman also have a home in Florida? I wonder where he votes. More difficult are the stories based on data. These take time to dig out the data, transform and massage the data into useful form, and present it using a product like Tableau Public. These interactive visualizations allow anyone to look at data and create analyses that satisfy their curiosity.
Which story has provoked the most abuse?
In 2014 when Todd Tiahrt challenged Mike Pompeo for the fourth district Congressional position, I wrote a number of stories critical of Tiahrt’s attitude towards earmarks and government spending in general. I was pummeled on Facebook. People told me I was a phony; that I never believed in liberty; that I was a total sellout. I was surprised at the ferocity.
I don’t write a lot about social issues. Articles about the death penalty, which I oppose, generate a lot of emotion.
How would you describe your political philosophy?
Classical, or market liberalism, which is roughly the same as libertarianism. It all starts from our natural or God-given rights, which leads to self-ownership, which leads to the non-aggression axiom, which is that no one has the right to initiate force, or the threat of force, against others. While most people probably think non-aggression is a good idea, libertarians also apply the axiom to government. From this, libertarians generally believe that the individual is more important than the collective, are skeptical about power, believe in civil society where problems are resolved by voluntary associations and action, spontaneous order instead of top-down planning and control, free markets, limited government, and toleration.
Although I am libertarian, I am a member of the Republican Party. It’s the difference between small “l” and big “R.” I wish Libertarian Party candidates could do better in elections, but that doesn’t seem to happen.
Has your political philosophy changed over time?
Yes. When I arrived at the University of Kansas as a freshman in 1976, I had a President Ford campaign sign in my dorm window. Then in 1980, after four years at KU, I voted for Ted Kennedy over Jimmy Carter in the Kansas presidential primary. It wasn’t until 1988 that I voted for a Republican for president.
In the early 1990s, I served in the Citizen Participation Organization in Wichita. Those were elected bodies for each city council district. They’ve been replaced by appointed District Advisory Boards. Then, I believed that by carefully considering all relevant factors, I was wise enough to discern whose property rights should be preserved, and whose should be violated.
Then, in 2004, I realized that libertarianism was the best political philosophy (thank you, Walter Williams). I am ashamed for the years when I thought otherwise.
Who has been your least favorite public official?
It’s difficult to name just one, but I think that Kansas Sen. Dan Kerschen might be at the top of the list. He is a Republican from western Sedgwick County who ran on the slogan “Making government better, not bigger.” Yet, he voted for the tax increase bill this year and to override the governor’s veto.
In 2015, he was the lowest-ranked senator on the Kansas Policy Institute Freedom Index. That’s quite an accomplishment — ranking lower on economic freedom issues than Tom Holland or Anthony Hensley. I like what Grover Norquist says: Republicans who vote for tax increases are like rat heads in a Coke bottle — they ruin the brand.
Your favorite politician?
There are several that I know on a personal level and consider close friends. Generally, I try to avoid becoming too friendly with public officials, because at some time they’ll probably do something wrong. That’s why you don’t see many photos of me with public officials!
As far as public officials with which I am not personal friends, I think Mike Pompeo is one I admire. I didn’t agree with all his positions, but he took many principled and courageous stands on federal spending and cronyism. He spearheaded a major bill, the GMO bill, that passed through Congress and was signed by President Obama. He is someone who could have been President. Now, as CIA Director he’s no longer involved in politics. Well, electoral politics, anyway. Or maybe not.
What is the best book you have read in the last year?
“Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety” by Eric Schlosser. It’s a history of nuclear weapons, and has been made into a documentary by PBS’s American Experience. Runner-up is “The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power” by Robert A. Caro. It’s the fourth in his series on Johnson.
What about the Wichita Eagle (or other local media) irritates you most?
Lack of humility. In the case of the Wichita Eagle, it knows it has a near-monopoly on newspaper-style journalism in the area. And, it acts like it. Most Eagle staff are totally convinced they are infallible in every word they write. There are exceptions. I recently attended a talk by Eagle reporter Roy Wenzl and was impressed by his humility and his admission that he heard a lot to learn about subjects he was covering.
One example: During the campaign regarding the proposed Wichita city sales tax in 2014, the Eagle wrote a fact-checking story on the “vote no” campaign. Fair enough. But no such story appeared examining the “vote yes” campaign. Upon my inquiry, I was told that there were no errors or mistakes made by the “vote yes” campaign. Really? Not one?
I wrote many articles pointing out the errors in that campaign. Since then, the city has determined that the problem that some of the sales tax money was to solve — at a cost of $250 million — could now be solved for over $100 million less. A Wichita Eagle reporter was present at the city council meeting where the city’s public works director presented this finding. But, no story. No editorial. Oh — the Eagle supported the sales tax, if you couldn’t tell.
What value do citizen journalists like yourself provide?
I’m not sure. I know when I compare my writing to what appears in a newspaper, I write on a much more personal level. But I’ll let others decide.
If you could wave a wand and institute any policy at any level of government, what would it be and why?
In 2007, the economist Walter E. Williams, a personal hero of mine, wrote this: “Twenty-five years ago, during a dinner conversation with Nobel Laureate economist/philosopher Friedrich A. Hayek, I asked him if he could propose one law that would restore, promote and preserve liberty in our country, what would that law be? Hayek answered that the law he’d propose would read: Congress shall enact no law that does not apply equally to all Americans. Hayek’s suggestion for full equality before the law was both simple and profound and would do untold wonders in fostering the liberties envisioned by our Founders.” I don’t think I can add anything to this, except that it may be difficult to apply in specific situations. For example, how do we apply this to school funding in Kansas?
What publications do you consider must-reads and why?
I think for most people their local newspaper is one of the most important things to read. As bad as the Wichita Eagle may be, it’s still the most popular source of news in Wichita, so if you want to know what is being fed to Wichitans, you must read it.
Otherwise, I like the Wall Street Journal, although it is very expensive. The New York Times can apply manpower to a story like few others can. For policy analysis, the Cato Institute is tops, and the Foundation for Economic Education has beefed up its offerings in the last year. Locally, Kansas Policy Institute and The Sentinel. The Wichita Pachyderm Club produces many programs regarding public policy and government, and many of these are available in video or audio. And, of course, anything written by Gidget Southway.
Besides that, I read a lot of government documents — agenda packets, meeting minutes, etc.
Where else can readers find everything Bob Weeks?
Facebook — that’s probably where to learn most about me (bob.weeks). I share material from wichitaliberty.org and quicktakes.wichitaliberty.org, news stories that I think are important, humor (Scenic Flint Hills at night!), and photos of my cats Tippy Lynn and Lily Bel.
On Twitter, you can follow me at @bob_weeks.
I was a regular panelist on This Week in Kansas and its predecessor Kansas Week hosted by Tim Brown, but KAKE TV canceled the show in December. I think it would like to find a new home.
I was the regular guest host for The Joseph Ashby Show on KQAM radio in Wichita. Since the station canceled that show — a very bad move, in my opinion — I haven’t been on the air there.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve written?
In 2012, I was the campaign chair and spokesman for a campaign. We gathered signatures to place a matter on the ballot, challenging an action by the Wichita City Council in awarding special tax treatment to a hotel. We won, soundly defeating the wishes of the political and crony class in Wichita. But it was bittersweet. I wrote: “Usually, winning an election is a happy time. In most elections the winning side is happy because they elected a candidate to office who they feel has the better ideas. I’m glad we won. But my happiness is tempered by the realization that we simply prevented something bad from happening in Wichita. … I hope that Wichita City Hall, the economic development machinery in our city, and the Wichita Eagle editorial board will be more receptive to the message of economic freedom, free markets, and limited government that was expressed in the results of this election.” My hope was not realized.
Your least favorite?
I don’t like to write articles that are critical of politicians or bureaucrats on a personal level. I guess it’s due to some latent remnants of respect for institutions of government and those who hold office. But the stories need to be told. And when I uncover something that no one else is reporting, I wonder if I am correct. Why, I ask, has no one else discovered this? Those are the stories that generate worry and self-doubt. But I don’t think I’ve been wrong, in a material way, on any of these stories.
Anything else readers should know?
I think that’s about all.