Chuck Eaton And A Player To Be Named Later For Public Service Commission

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The Public Service Commission may well be one of the most misunderstood jobs in Georgia politics.  The five member board is charged with regulating some of Georgia’s utilities.  Others, such as cable television and wireless telephones, are outside of their jurisdiction.

Electricity and natural gas distribution are their main focus these days.  Land line telephones are decreasing in significance as technology is passing the industry by.  Thus, much of what the PSC decides these days is about Georgia’s energy future.

Much of the decisions that the PSC makes are handcuffed by Georgia law and an increasing appetite for  the General Assembly to regulate utilities via every more friendly regulations codified as state law.  Senate Bill 31 continues to resonate as an example, with the legislature, not the PSC, deciding to pre-fund Georgia Power’s return on investment for two new nuclear reactors at plant Vogtle.  The legislature also decided that large commercial users would be exempt from this rate increase, leaving residential customers and small businesses to pick up the tab.

Regardless, the PSC still has an important voice in not only the rates we are charged as consumers, but what kind of energy we will be produced in Georgia.  The mix of coal, natural gas, and nuclear power is largely decided by PSC policy.  Whether Georgia effectively adds solar and/or wind energy to the mix will also be in their purview.

One of Chuck Eaton’s strong points is that he is intellectually curious.  He is a person who is willing to admit he doesn’t have all of the answers, and solicits opinions regularly on topics that interest him.  This is not to say he doesn’t understand the issues – Far from it.  He has a keen grasp on the various risks associated with coal as the EPA continues to push coal powered electric plants toward extinction.  He understands that while natural gas prices are at historic lows right now, the history of the fuel is one of price volatility which could lead to wide variances in power costs.  He understands that nuclear is cheap once the power plants are operational, but getting a plant built after 30 years since the last plant was built will present unique challenges.

Eaton prefers a balanced approach, with Georgia not putting all eggs in one basket.  He’s generally pragmatic about the needs of the state, and balances the needs of Georgians with the requirements that those the PSC regulates are entitled to earn a profit as defined in state law.

While not someone I always agree with, Eaton is someone who can explain and is willing to defend his positions based on fact and underlying law.  That’s a rarity in politics.

In short, I trust him.  That’s also rare.  He’s an incumbent that gets my vote.  That’s getting more rare.

As for the other PSC seat, we have long time PSC member Stan Wise being challenged by former PSC candidate Pam Davidson.  Wise has grown comfortable in the position, perhaps too comfortable.  He is a reliable vote for the utilities and rarely shows disagreement with their requests.

Davidson, on the other hand, claims college degrees on her resume that she does not have and dismisses those who bring this up as playing “dirty politics”.  She also said in a recent GPTV debate that she is not a lobbyist, despite the fact that she explained in the next sentence that she did register to lobby on occasions as required by Georgia law.

It’s difficult to recommend voting for either, but there is another alternative.  South Cobb resident David Staples will be on the November ballot as a Libertarian.  With no Democrat qualified in this race, Staples could make it interesting if he can pick off Republican voters who would like to see a change and combine those with Democratic voters who won’t vote for a Republican.

He may be pragmatic enough (a challenge for many Libertarian candidates) to pull that off.  But as the PSC races receive little public attention, it is still a tall hill to climb.  Regardless, we’ll have a few more months to determine if Staples is a viable alternative to the status quo, and if there is a viable electoral strategy to make that happen.

5 comments

  1. Charlie, thanks for continuing to shed light on the Public Service Commission and the current election for the district 3 and 5 seats. The PSC typically doesn’t receive much attention from the press nor the general public. When there are blog posts, Stan doesn’t respond… as he said himself on Jim Galloway’s blog not that long ago: “It is not often that I respond in blogs, but the contorted leap the AJC made this afternoon deserves a response.”

    Personally, I believe it’s important for elected officials in any capacity to respond in blogs and discussion forums. It’s a key part of being open and transparent – something the current PSC is not. I’m sure there will be things that some voters may disagree with me on. Some people may disagree with me on the methods to achieve a particular end result. But one thing I hope everyone can agree on is that it’s time for a change in the district 5 seat.

    I’m available to talk anytime if anyone has any questions on where I stand. I can’t promise we’ll agree, but I can promise that I’m open to listening to every side of an issue. I certainly don’t claim to know everything… and if there’s an angle to an issue that perhaps I haven’t taken into account, I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong.

    However, I can’t win this race by myself. Stan is funded primarily by the executives of the utilities he regulates, their lobbyists, and their attorneys. He says that he sees no problem with this, as campaign contributions are an expression of free speech. I’m certainly not trying to restrict their freedom of speech. But just as they are free to donate to whomever they would like, he is free to return the donations if he so desired.

    I need your support and your donations to help me win. If you’re ready for a change, please consider donating to my campaign at http://www.votestaples.com . If you work for an entity that is regulated by the PSC, are a lobbyist for one of those entities or represent them as an attorney before the PSC, I thank you for your thoughtfulness, but I’m not accepting contributions from those groups as I believe it is a conflict of interest.

    I look forward to hopefully bringing change to the Public Service Commission and would appreciate your vote and your support. Thank you.

  2. troutbum70 says:

    What’s interesting is that I received an email from Pam Davidson talking about her endorsement from Debbie Dooley. I’m surprised that she would back a candidate who has a questionable background in regards to her diplomas and professional career. I know Stan may be lax in his time on the PSC but find a better candidate to back. Just leaves me wondering what the Tea Party leadership is doing by backing Pam, backing Beaudreau and his “forced trash plan” and not speaking out against the Esplost that was voted on last year. I thought it was about less government.

  3. I’ve received 4 robocalls from Chuck Eaton and my various e-mail accounts have been flooded with SPAM emails from his campaign. I would vote for Satan if he ran against Eaton just because of the massive intrusion into my personal space.

    • Blog Goliard says:

      I live in McKillip’s district and am a known Republican sympathizer…and so what you’ve described is only about 1/20th of what’s been inflicted on voters like me by our new true-blue-conservative best friend Doug.

      Maybe I’m just defining deviancy down, but Eaton’s A-OK with me; while I’d be tempted to vote for [insert name of your most hated political figure in human history here] over McKillip.

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