Monday, September 01, 2008

Nominate and Elect Rick Fowlkes to the Arizona Corporation Commission

To date, I haven't given any candidate for office an outright endorsement on this 'blog. This will be my first: The Republican Party should nominate Rick Fowlkes for Arizona Corporation Commissioner, and the people of the state should elect him to that office.

The possibility of "change", specifically a shift away from liberalism to "solidaristic" Europe-style social democracy (soft tyranny, a la Tocqueville's use of the term, if you ask me!) has of late captured the mass press's imagination and attention. Relatively ignored has been the slow revolution in American life, deregulations, privatizations, the substitution of markets, ownership, choice, and opportunity for democratic or quasi-democratic government control. The various school choice programs, airline and telecom deregulation, HSAs, widespread adoption of individual retirement accounts and 401(k) plans: all these reforms, which reduce demand for and dependence on government, make Obama look regressive if not reactionary, once the voter does what the popular press has not and realizes that they are part of a uniformly liberal whole.

Election of Fowlkes would bring this "quiet revolution" to Arizona to the benefit of utility consumers. Relative to what could be, public utilities in Arizona operate in horse-and-buggy fashion. A state-mandated monopoly--which, with a few adjustments to the law, wouldn't be "natural"--asks an elected board, the Corporation Commission, if rates can be increased or terms of service can be changed, and the elected board either approves or it doesn't. Consumer choice does not enter the process at all; contrast how you purchase electricity or natural gas with how you buy cellular phone service, gasoline, or pizza.

Fowlkes would replace this monopoly plus rent-seeking mechanism with one based on choice and competition: utility retail service areas would be allowed to overlap, and in areas with three or more providers, competition, not government control, would determine rates and terms of service, just as it does for cellular phone service. Sharing plans would be arranged for truly monopolistic infrastructure such as wires and pipes, much as the Palo Verde nuclear plant is shared; Fowlkes has also privately expressed approval of customer ownership of the "last mile" of infrastructure, a la Ottawa, Ontario, Canada..

Kudos goes to Robert Robb for picking up on this proposal for competition in a year when editorial boards have concerned themselves mainly with the candidates' views on the constitutionality or practical benefit of the state's renewable energy mandate and flim-flammery like "partisanship". I wholeheartedly endorse Fowlkes, but, like Robb, I have reservations about his running mates. I like the idea of having three engineers on the Corporation Commission, but these two seem at times a bit out of their league. They have also publicly denied anthropogenic global warming, showing a contemptuous disregard for science; Fowlkes has merely declared it "overstated", which, to the average Joe who isn't reading scientific papers on the subject, may be true. Their competition, however, has also done so, with Marian McClure being especially fierce in calling the prevailing theory a hoax.

Republican readers: vote Fowlkes tomorrow, and strongly consider his running mates Joe Hobbs and Keith Swapp. Arizona ratepayers should be given the benefits of utility competition.

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