In an indication of the current lovefest between California's Democratic-controlled state legislature and its Republican governor, free-market advocate Rachelle Chong's confirmation to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) was unanimously approved by the state Senate Thursday, less than 24 hours after the Rules Committee put aside reservations and sent the issue to the full Senate. Without the move, Chong would have been forced to step down from the powerful agency.
A veteran telecommunications attorney and former Federal Communications Commission member, Chong, had her CPUC appointment take a detour last week when a state Senate committee held up action because of concerns from consumer groups and an eleventh-hour negative letter from a just-retired CPUC colleague, Geoffrey Brown (see Daily GPI, Jan. 9).
CPUC President Michael Peevey, a Democratic appointee supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who can name the commission's president at any time, announced the Senate's favorable vote and congratulated his colleague to kick off the CPUC's first business meeting of the year. Wryly, Peevey noted that Chong's margin of confirmation (33-0 in the 40-member Senate) was much greater than what he was able to muster several years ago.
In a report in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday's Rules Committee vote, Chong's CPUC nomination was called "controversial," and consumer groups were quoted as being very critical. Former Commissioner Brown, who just stepped down from the CPUC last month, was cited as sending a letter to the head of the state Senate alleging that during her tenure in 2006 Chong did not take "a single position, however small, averse to large incumbent telecommunications carriers."
Brown and one other CPUC member, Dian Grueneich, had dissented in a Chong-led revision of a Telecommunications Bill of Rights in California last year. Nevertheless, on the energy side, Chong received strong support from groups such as the Natural Resource Defense Council as the "right person for the job," based on her support of the CPUC renewable energy and global climate change mitigation measures, the LA Times reported.
Chong was appointed to complete the term of Susan Kennedy, who Schwarzenegger tabbed to be his chief of staff. Her term expires at the end of 2008, and if she had to leave, the five-member CPUC would have had two vacancies because Schwarzenegger has not yet appointed a replacement for Brown, whose six-year term ended last month. Chong stressed to state lawmakers that just because she is pro-market that doesn't mean she is anti-consumer.
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