California Public Utilities Commissioner Rachelle Chong – the force behind California’s land-line telephone service deregulation – will not be confirmed for a 2nd term, according to the LA Times. After a few years demonstrating her fealty to telecom at California consuemrs expense, the Senate is making the right move. The fact is, she shouldn’t have been confirmed the first time; it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that when people who have worked for an industry are appointed to regulate that industry it doesn’t work out so well for the public.
Which reminds me [digression alert!] of the comment by a member of the Senate Rules Committee, during the 2003 confirmation process of PUC Commissioner Michael Peevey, himself a former utility executive. In response to my suggestion that his industry background should preclude him from the post, the Senator said something like: "But he knows the industry so well. Who would be better at regulatingenergy companies." I can’t remember if I smacked my head at the time, but The Mercury News reported Commissioner Peevey saying to me "You have no humanity."
But back to Chong. Our friends at The Utility Reform Network make the case against re-confirming Chong in detail. But I think a little story about her apparent idea of "balance" is worth re-telling.
In 2007, Commissioner Chong went on a telecom industry-funded junket to Japan, with the nonprofit organization known as CFEE. Through a Public Records Act request, Consumer Watchdog obtained emails between Comissioner Chong and CFEE exec Pat Mason, in which she insisted that AT&T not control the agenda. Was it a sign that her she was developing some independence from telecom? Hardly. Mason was able to ease her concerns about the trip by promising that:
We told AT&T from day 1 it has to b a balanced tour. Comcast is helping. Verizon also.
Satisfied that the whole of the industry had input on the agenda, Commissioner Chong went on the trip, no doubt being toasted for her accomplishments on behalf of the all the telecom giants. A copy of the emails and the trip itinerary can be downloaded here.
Now, one more thing about Peevey. According to today’s LA Times:
Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear suggested that bias was at work.
"It is outrageous that the Senate wouldn’t even give the courtesy of a
vote to the first Asian American PUC commissioner, particularly in
light of her identical voting record with her male colleague, Mr.
Peevey," he said.
The right repsonse to Schwarzenegger’s accusation of a double standard is to refuse to confirm Peevey as well.