TURN director leaves for new post

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Contra Costa Times (California)

Nettie Hoge, a consumer advocate who fought for the rights of ratepayers during California’s energy crisis, announced Wednesday that she is resigning as executive director of The Utility Reform Network and will become deputy commissioner at the California Department of Insurance.

“I am really scared. Who could possibly take her place?” said Harvey Rosenfield of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica. “It’s a huge loss for utility consumers, but a huge gain for insurance consumers. She’s moving from one very important job to another, and she’s still going to fight for consumers on pocketbook issues.”

TURN, based in San Francisco, is a nonprofit advocacy organization that represents California’s residential and small-business utility ratepayers. During Hoge’s eight-year tenure, TURN fought Pacific Gas & Electric’s rate hikes, lobbied on behalf of rural consumers who were facing increases in telephone costs, and fought off efforts by Pacific Bell to raise the cost of directory assistance calls by nearly 85 cents each.

Hoge, who lives in Albany, plans to remain at TURN through the end of October. A national search will be launched for her successor.

“We’re very sorry to see her go,” said Mindy Spatt, TURN’s media director. “She’s an incredible problem solver, and that made her a great executive director.”

Hoge was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment. In a prepared statement, she said, “My work at TURN has been one of the most challenging, exciting and rewarding experiences of my career.”

In 2000, when rolling blackouts hit California and consumers scrambled to conserve energy because of skyrocketing electric bills, Hoge was seemingly everywhere, fighting for consumers in the courts, the state Legislature and the media.

“She kept raising the question of what is the impact on ratepayers, while everyone else was focused on the utilities,” said Gail Hillebrand, a senior attorney at Consumers Union, where Hoge worked before moving over to TURN. “She held all of the policy makers to their obligations.”

The word “feisty” is often used to describe her. An attorney by training, she had enormous command of the intricacies of energy deregulation and a steady rage on behalf of families struggling to pay bills.

“She’s the type of person who you want on your side of a policy debate,” said PG&E spokesman Ron Low, who disagreed with her on more than one occasion. “She knows the issues and she fights for what she believes in.”

Hoge will work in the Office of Policy and Planning at the Department of Insurance. The office tracks problems plaguing both consumers and the insurance industry. Issues such as the lack of health insurance and the rising costs of worker’s compensation insurance are at the forefront, as are concerns that the insurance industry penalizes consumers with bad credit histories through credit scoring.

“Nettie’s a wonderful person, a dear friend, and a tireless worker on behalf of consumers,” said Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi. In the early 1990s, during Garamendi’s first term as commissioner, Hoge was a deputy commissioner of health policy.

“Her strong consumer advocacy background will serve us well as we work to build CDI, once again, into the best consumer protection agency in the nation.”

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