PG&E and a Rock Rapids, Iowa, liberal


By Bruce B. Brugmann

I confess. I am an old-fashioned Rock Rapids, Iowa, liberal. For starters, that means I grew up in a little town in northwestern Iowa that has had public power since 1896 and so i know personally that public power is cheap, reliable, and accountable.

In San Francisco, where PG&E private power is expensive, unreliable, and unaccountable, I was startled to find that I am suddenly an "ultra liberal," along with a host of other progressives and independents who support the Clean Energy Initiative and public power.

Yes, according to PG&E and the San Francisco Chronicle, we are all suspicious characters and ought to be kept under watch for the duration for advocating such "ultra-liberal" things as clean energy, renewables, public power, mandates for making San Francisco a world leader in renewables, and kicking PG&E out of the mayor's office and the DCCC.

As Tim Redmond points out in his Editors notes (8/20/08), the term first appeared in Heather Knight's Aug. 15th article on the changes in the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), for decades the unassailable bastion of the Burton/ Brown machine. Her lead, he noted, was "almost breathtaking " in its drama. She wrote that the party "has veered dramatically to the left," and that it would be telling voters to vote for a raft of "ultra-liberal politicians supervisorial candidates" and, among other things, to "embrace public power." (The Clean Energy Initiative, as it is appropriately known, mandates aggressive goals for renewables but PG&E gallops swiftly by this point and loves to say without evidence that the initiative is a $4 billion takeover of PG&E, which is yet another Big PG&E Lie.)

Meanwhile, the new Chronicle columnist Willie Brown, who ran endless errands for PG&E as mayor and as a private attorney on the public payroll, and collected a nifty $200,000 in "consulting services" in 2007 from PG&E, wrote without gulping:

"It was quite a week for local politics, with the certified takeover of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee by outgoing Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin and Chris Daly...But what's really going on here behind the headlines is a move by the 'progressives' to take over the central committee a la Tammany Hall or Richard Daley's Chicago. The goal is to control the party money and endorsements--and that way be able to pick candidates for office as well.

"In other words the central committee will be Peskin's shadow mayoralty, allowing Peskin to keep calling the shots even when he leaves office."

Tammany Hall? Richard Daley's Chicago? Why didn't Wiillie just say what the facts are: that the Burton/Brown machine, and Mayor Newsom and PG&E et al, are no longer calling the shots on the DCCC and that a group of real progressives are cutting the umbilical cord to machine politics and calling the shots with real progressive issues and initiatives, such as the Clean Energy Act. Willie also couldn't say of course that PG&E got much of its influence through his office as mayor and the Burton/Brown machine, which never put as much as a pebble in PG&E's monopoly path. Thus, until now, the machine-dominated DCCC has been a safe haven for PG&E and even this time around the real progressives only won through a major organizing effort and tough battle.

Tim wrote that he thinks Newsom's political operatives are mad that "the progressives have seized control of the term 'progressives.' which is in fact an accurate and historically valuable term. They'd like to call Newsom a progressive mayor, which is inaccurate and historically invalid. But since they can't get away with that, they've pushed the Chronicle to use another term for people like Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin and the best the editors could come up with is 'ultra liberal.'" The Chronicle, which appears to be once again revving up for PG&E, tosses a juicy T-bone to PG&E and its campaign theme that only the loony left would support such dread issues as clean energy and public power.

Maybe we have a new insight into the term progressive. A real progressive supports the Clean Energy Act and public power, while a phony Willie Brown/Gavin Newsom 'progressive,' in quotes, supports PG&E and opposes the Clean Energy Act. In short, there is a big difference between a real progressive and a PG&E 'progressive.'

And me? I'm still just an old-fashioned Rock Rapids, Iowa, liberal.

More to come on this illuminating subject, B3

P.S. 1:Hearst ethics policy: If Hearst wants to present Willie Brown as a "legitimate" journalist and featured political columnist, making value judgments and ethical pronouncements on who is and is not a real progressive and whether the DCCC has been taken over by clean energy progressives playing Tammany Hall/Richard Daley machine politics, the Chronicle ought at minimum to require disclosure of his "consulting services" for PG&E and other private interests that would conflict his column? What specific "consulting services" did he provide for PG&E in 2007? What is he doing now for PG&E and for how much in the November election? Is he writing a political column for the Chronicle and working for PG&E at the same time? Is he advising PG&E on how to "steal" another election?
(I left a message for Willie at the Willie Brown Institute and I put out an email to Hearst corporate for comment on Willie's PG&E/editorial role.)

It was Mayor Willie, as the public power campaign was winning in the 2001 public power election, who ordered that the ballots be moved from City Hall to the Civic Auditorium because of an anthrax scare. I remember standing with Angela Alioto about l0:30 p.m. on election night when then Elections Director Tammy Haygood, announced the anthrax move. "Angela," I said, "we've lost the election." She didn't believe me and kept saying, "No, no, we couldn't lose the election now." Alas, I was right.

We raced over to the Auditorium where there was only minimal security. There was no evidence then or later of an anthrax scare. PG&E came from behind and won by a bare 500 votes. Several days later, several tops of the election boxes were found floating in the bay. There was no explanation from Willie nor his election director and no real investigation. The gallows humor was that the campaign should hire divers to go into the bay and find the missing ballots.

PG&E's big payments: PG&E discloses the $200,000 payment to Willie Brown for "consulting services" in 2007 in its annual report to the California Public Utilities Commission. In a key section of this report (called page 257), PG&E is required to list every payment that it made to an outside company or consultant. This amounts to billions year.
PG&E has the entire annual report posted on its Investor Relations website, but, significantly, page 357 is missing.
PG&E's statement explaining the omission says: "Details of this page are filed with the California Public Utilities Commission." Reporter Amanda Witherell formally asked the CPUC press office for it and they said they're "trying to track it down." But she did get a copy.