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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ground Dog Day, Again - And a Day Late

Nancy McFadden, author of PG&E's Proposition 16, is now going to become the Executive Secretary to the State's new Governor - for policy, appointments and scheduling. Having fought off Proposition 16 against the $50 Million that PG&E put down to block Community Choice (CCA) in California just six months ago, and having worked closely with Jerry when he ran for Mayor of Oakland and created a strong mayor system there, I could not help be feel a sense of paranoid alarm that Jerry had hired this PARTICULAR woman into his fold. This particular elf for past failed Democratic Presidential and Governorship candidates? What would make you want this? Friend of a friend? Is this another case of inviting the U.S. Military to practice invasions in East Oakland after being elected mayor - suiting the Governor's contrarian humor, a desire to outrage his old base for a good chuckle?

There is something postmodern, even decadent, about McFadden's move from PG&E Headquarters to the Governor's front office. It is like being in a vaguely bad dream. On the one hand, the Governor promised that base that he would revolutionize California with local power - the very kind of change we have always championed - with some 20 GigaWatts (GW) of renewable distributed generation throughout California. California is collapsing back to the counties, "devolving" power by default. On (or with) the other he hires a woman more responsible than any other person (alleges PG&E CEO Peter Darbee) for PG&E's most notorious strategem to block any such effort by San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma County, San Luis Obispo.

For the author of perhaps the most reviled attack on local government in California in recent memory to be hired by the same Governor who will devolve power to local government, how is this ostensibly praetorian secretary to be regarded by those who would approach the Governor concerning policy, appointments or the Governor's schedule? I know how powerful a "scheduler" can be for a politician - even for a gifted one like Jerry Brown. His decision to give McFadden the keys to his office is indeed troubling, even haunting.

So what is Governor Brown 3.0 thinking? I can only guess. Jerry has a scholarly mind that is not well adapted to the platitudes of State of the State speeches. He can make a campaign interesting, and managed to not kill a few good ideas in his first round as governor, but is not a natural executive in character, ability or disposition. So in other words, it matters who his head staffers are and what they are up to. Having McFadden in there is frightening.

Some people put hope in Brown's appointments of Mike Florio, formerly the head attorney at The Utility Reform Network, one of the major pro-consumer law firms at the CPUC.  I have known Mike for many years and think him a very smart, able attorney who is well-intentioned. But what is the program? Does anyone have any ideas what to do in California's energy market, other than blocking PG&E from destroying Community Choice, or otherwise mis-investing in the ongoing overbuilding of PG&E and the other utilities (e.g. PG&E's new Oakley Power Plant) or shift costs onto transmission ratemaking as in the current CPUC proceeding, so as to erect a wall of ratepayer debt, penalties, charges and other shenanigans, and thus kill all that local power stands for? Platitudes or lofty goals aside, where is there sign of a determination like Franklin Roosevelt's when he defied the utility industry players in the region like Duke Power and built the Tennessee Valley Authority? Clear lines must be drawn between aggressive incumbents that have prevented any real change for half a century, and those individuals who are determined that change must come in this administration. This is leadership in a crisis - not revolving-door opportunists.

The Collapse phenomenon is highlighted by the the decadent actions of powerful people, who display their contempt for the public. It is a kind of epiphany, the boredom of Caligula as he destroyed Rome. Sustaining this attack but damaged by Chevron's "Copycat" Prop 26 (which did pass) the local governments of California swoon before the spectre of Brown's devolution in unprecedented mega-deficits brought about by an economy that has substantially collapsed at the real level of small businesses, which employ most people - and President Obama announces in his State of the Union that the economy is coming back because of the Stock Market. Financialization has reduced national debate to cheerleading when a serious rethinking of the American economy is desperately needed. It is a time for clear leadership to force change on an industry that has not merely resisted but subverted California's mandates for years, reducing its global reputation from leader to loser. Can Brown do better?

I was called yesterday by a journalist who said there were rumors that Nancy McFadden is an "environmentalist." I said this was funny, or alarming, considering who she is - undeniably the "idea person" beyond Proposition 16. Peter Darbee hired her to do it just after failed Governor Gray Davis had hired her to handle his disaster of an administration during the energy crisis...that PG&E more than any other caused. To me this sounds like a classic power player, this circassian horsewoman jumping from Governor to energy megacorp to Governor. Were will she jump next? Moreover, what was the Governor thinking?

The reduction of Obama from leader to cheerleader has illustrated the importance of having actual ideas, not just brilliantly crafted slogans and winning smiles. You cannot stop the Great Recession by announcing that the economy is coming back. That was Herbert Hoover, not Roosevelt. You cannot bring the change that America needs by waxing poetic (however polished, thank you Geroge Lakoff) while ignoring basic matters of trade policy or actual infrastructure. The Shuck and Jive has got to stop, and Revolving Door Blues ain't the way to start either, Mr. Governor.

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