Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

So, Bitter Smith thinks if she's forceful in her denials, people will believe her?

The next step in the ongoing saga of As The Corporation Commission Turns emerged over the weekend when Commissioner Bitter Smith exhibited high levels of chutzpah during a television interview with Channel 3 political editor Dennis Welch.

After having witnessed the Channel 3 interview Sunday evening, former Corporation Commission staff attorney Lee Poole, wrote a letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic, published today (Sept 30).



Of course, if Bitter Smith projects sincerity with enough emphatic conviction, when declaring that Cox's cable operation is a separate accounting entity (corporation) than Cox's telephone service provider operation, perhaps she thinks nobody will notice. Despite her indignant declaration of the independence of the companies, the ownership/equity of both companies is either on the books of the other, or the stock of both companies is held essentially by the same people or corporation or holding company. Therefore, according the Bitter Smith, she has no conflict of interest because there is no connection between the two companies.

Personally, I don't buy it. And apparently, neither does (Tony West) whistleblower Lee Poole, who stated it thus,
The (seemingly transient) considerations of corporate structure and tax advantage must override the will of the electorate (as expressed in the state Constitution) and the rule of law (as expressed by the state Supreme Court). 
Would that be a fair summary? Just askin'.
A.R.S. 40-101 doesn't parse the situation quite the way Bitter Smith does.
A person in the employ of, or holding an official relation to a corporation or person subject to regulation by the commission, or a person owning stocks or bonds of a corporation subject to regulation, or a person who is pecuniarily interested therein, shall not be elected, appointed to, or hold the office of commissioner or be appointed or employed by the commission...
She can squawk and squeal all she wants but who really can she convince that has even the slightest amount of critical thinking skills? Just because the two (or more) companies in the Cox Communications conglomerate are distinct accounting entities (as claimed by Bitter Smith), does that mean those companies are at all disinterested in how well the other(s) perform financially... or pecuniarily?

Should one assume that Susan Bitter Smith must be interested in how well Cox Cable performs financially (since she gets paid handsomely to advocate for the company)? If so, how reasonable could it possibly be to figure she's NOT interested in the company's overall performance?

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By the way, another item showed up today about the ACC clusterf*ck. Phoenix-based IO Data Centers LLC submitted a 5-page letter supporting the commission implementing rules requiring public service corporations (PSCs, namely the regulated utilities) disclose election related spending.
IO submits that, as a threshold matter, the Commission has the authority-and, indeed, the obligation-to require the disclosure, by PSCs or other affiliated entities (e.g., parents, subsidiaries), of their expenditures in Commission elections. The Commission should exercise its authority in two ways: (1) issue a subpoena so that the Commission may inspect the books and records of PSCs to determine their spending activity (on Commission elections) in the last election cycle (2014); and (2) promulgate a rule that would require such disclosure by PSCs on an ongoing and prospective basis. 
The stakes are high. Simply stated, under existing law, a regulated PSC can spend unlimited amounts of money, anonymously, to influence the election of the members of the very regulatory body that oversees the PSC. This situation-an unintended consequence of recent changes in the law-erodes public confidence in the Commission’s process and decision-making and undermines the Commission’s ability to fulfill its constitutionally imposed duty to protect “the public interest through regulation of [PSCs]”. To discharge this critical duty, the Commission must be free from both actual and perceived conflicts of interest. And to determine the existence of those conflicts, both the Commission and the voters of Arizona require information about election spending by PSCs on Commission elections.
As a certain Vice-President might say, this is a BFD.


Plastics & Energy Efficiency -- more GOP legislative overreach?

Just yesterday (Tuesday, September 29), this blogger captured an image of a truck that had picked up some trash (what looked conspicuously like a plastic grocery bag). I was sitting at a red light on Priest Drive in Tempe, waiting to turn left to enter the Loop 202 freeway, when I snapped the pic.






Perhaps filing a lawsuit challenging the legislature for another illegal law it passed (and Ducey signed) doesn't automatically prove anything. But it does get the ball rolling. That's exactly what Tempe City Councilwoman Lauren Kuby did today. From a press release dated today,
Phoenix, AZ -- The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Lauren Kuby (Plaintiff), a member of the Tempe City Council, to challenge Arizona Senate Bill 1241, signed by Arizona Governor Ducey on April 13, 2015. Kuby has filed this lawsuit in her individual capacity and not as a member of the Council.
Senate Bill 1241 blocks cities and towns from limiting the use of plastic bags, particularly in grocery stores as the town of Bisbee has done and which the cities of Tempe and Flagstaff were considering at the time SB 1241 was enacted. SB 1241 also prohibits cities from enacting “energy benchmarking” ordinances. Such benchmarking involves similar businesses reporting and comparing energy consumption to identify opportunities for energy efficiency and has been shown to save millions of dollars on energy bills nationwide.

Kuby's complaint alleges three violations of the Arizona Constitution,
  1. The single subject provision in Article 4 Part 2, § 13.
  2. The title provision in the same section of the Constitution.
  3. The home rule provision in Article 13 § 2.
From Article 4, Part 2:
Section 13. Every act shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith, which subject shall be expressed in the title; but if any subject shall be embraced in an act which shall not be expressed in the title, such act shall be void only as to so much thereof as shall not be embraced in the title.
Article 13, Section 2 sets forth the process for cities establishing Home Rule, which is defined generally as,
Home rule cities are those cities which have adopted a home rule charter for their local self governance. The citizens of a home rule city are free to choose their own form of municipal government, choose between a large or small city council, fix the terms of office of council members, decide on the method of election of the Mayor, provide for creation of more boards and commissions which they feel is essential for proper city functioning, etc. In US, most of the states have home rule cities. For example Michigan legislature has enacted the Home Rule City Act which provides the frame work by which a new city can become incorporated and have its own government, by adopting a city charter. In Texas, a city with more than 5,000 people can choose to become a home rule city. The home rule city can take any actions which are not prohibited by the state or federal laws and the constitution of US and Texas.
Home rule cities are not burdened by the limitations of Dillon’s rule which is a doctrine that says that a unit of local government may exercise only those powers that the state expressly grants to it.
Recent Arizona case law demonstrates that the state constitution permits cities to effectively challenge legislative preemption, which is what SB1241 attempted to do regarding regulation of plastic bags and energy benchmarking.

The legislature attempted to prohibit the City of Tucson from having partisan council elections. That might be a reasonable thing to do, but Tucson is a charter city, it challenged the preemption and the AZ Supreme Court agreed.
¶ 46 Determining the method for electing city council members necessarily involves a weighing of competing policy concerns.   Our opinion neither involves policy choices nor endorses one method of election over another;  instead it considers whether Arizona's Constitution entrusts those issues to the voters of charter cities or the state legislature.
¶ 47 Given Article 13, Section 2, the intent of Arizona's framers, and the history of municipal government in our state, we hold that electors in charter cities may determine under their charters whether to constitute their councils on an at-large or district basis and whether to conduct their elections on a partisan basis.   In so doing, they must of course comply with the Arizona Constitution and federal law.   But the local autonomy preserved for charter cities by Arizona's Constitution allows Tucson voters to continue electing their council members pursuant to the city's 1929 charter notwithstanding A.R.S. § 9–821.01(B) and (C).
Even more recently, the legislature attempted to prevent cities and towns from conducting elections on their own schedules. The Court of Appeals struck down that legislative overreach, concluding,
In light of the foregoing, we affirm the trial court's grant of a permanent injunction enjoining the State of Arizona from requiring the City of Tucson and the City of Phoenix to comply with the candidate election scheduling requirements of § 16-204, as amended.
In other words, other cities and towns are still subject to 16-204. I suppose that if a charter city wishes to be exempted, they could successfully sue the State on the same grounds.

When I wrote about this subject after Councilwoman Kuby appeared on Arizona Horizon with the bombastic John Kavanagh, I embedded video of that interview. Reviewing the video this afternoon, I transcribed this quote by Kavanagh (starting at the 3:25 mark),
All levels of government have to live within the constitutional constraints that are imposed on us.
Is it any surprise that Kavanagh, a highly educated (holds a Ph.D., supposedly) long time public servant was conveniently unaware of the constraint imposed by the Arizona Constitution on him (and his GOP co-conspirators) by Article 13 Section 2? I wonder if the Home Rule provision of the state constitution will be included in the newly mandated civics test required for high school graduation.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Deconstructing Phil Boas

You may recall that earlier this month Arizona Republic editorial page editor Phil Boas took a cheap shot at various citizens working to fill the gap left by Boas (on the editorial page) and otherwise inadequate coverage of the corruption at the Corporation Commission, including Trash Burner Bob Stump and Susan Bitter Smith.

One such citizen is attorney and activist Tom Ryan. He had filed what appears to be an airtight complaint demonstrating Bitter Smith has violated statutory conflict of interest law from the time she first began campaigning for election to her current position.

Chris Herstam poignantly called out Boas for naivete. I suggested Herstam gave Boas the benefit of the doubt.

Ryan, however, answered Boas' criticism point by point, in detail. That was after Ryan had sent an email message to Boas offering to answer ANY question the editorial board might have about Ryan's quo warranto complaint.



One has to wonder how and why the Republic continues to allow an editorial page editor to remain in its employ when that editor has a prima facie conflict of interest by virtue (despite claims of being walled off from Arpaio coverage) of his familial relationship with Maricopa County's most infamous elected official. Boas is son-in-law to the nativist sheriff. So wondering, that is, before even considering the overt statement Boas had made declaring his bias against calling out government corruption.


In today's Arizona Republic, Boas finally responds to Ryan's letter, without even beginning to address the primary festering issue -- the Republic's lack of willingness to expose and fully discuss the ramifications of Bitter Smith's, Stump's and Stump's "partners-in-crime" as it were, Doug Little and Tom Forese.

So, here's what Boas had to say, 



All Boas had done was "defend a few of them in this space..." he says.
Really, Phil?

You didn't expose your "naivete" or your bias against holding elected government to account?

For Ryan to write a response to Boas' cheap shot then ensuring Boas saw that response constitutes a "thuggish tactic?" Hyperbolic much, Phil?

thuggish

thug
(thŭg)
n.
1. A cutthroat or ruffian; a hoodlum.
2. also Thug, One of a group of professional criminals, devotees of Kali, who robbed and murdered travelers in northern India until the mid-1800s.
My goodness, Phil. Your harsh criticism of legitimate exercise of citizenship has me shaking in my boots. NOT. But it does, in the parlance of attorneys, likely have a chilling effect on freedom of speech, through intimidating language, if not with threats of legal action.

What does Phil Boas' likening legitimate exercise of citizenship to criminal conduct really do to his credibility as editorial page editor?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hoping to win the war, APS concedes the battle?

Today, Arizona Public Service filed a 7-page motion to amend last month's Corporation Commission order seeking to dramatically increase the net metering fee it charges customers with rooftop solar. It begins,
In their most aggressive display of political gamesmanship to date, TASC [normally, the first use of an acronym in any document warrants spelling out the meaning. In this case, it's The Alliance for Solar Choice] and its allies have shown their true colors. Instead of taking the opportunity to prove their claims through sworn testimony, they have retreated to procedural tactics and character attacks designed to discredit elected officials and undermine the integrity of the Arizona Corporation Commission. The obvious goal is to paralyze the Commission. The rooftop solar leasing companies do not want to have a substantive discussion, especially not in a hearing where their representatives will be on the record and subject to cross examination. They can only continue to profit from artificial subsidies as long as they can continue to disrupt the regulatory process and prevent the Commission from considering the substance of rate design.
Now, how would YOU characterize that paragraph as the opening argument in a motion?

There might be other valid terms one could use, but for a company desperate to prevent public disclosure of the extent of its electioneering in 2012 and 2014, it seems abundantly clear that the terms subterfuge and misdirection, seem fitting. APS concludes its motion with a paragraph that includes this poignantly Orwellian statement,
APS offers this alternative to the Commission so that progress can continue to be made on these critical policies despite efforts by TASC and others to confuse, distract and delay.
TASC, the Checks and Balances Project, citizen journalists and other activists, advocates and investigative journalists all are all focused and intent on ensuring ONLY one thing. That the people have the opportunity to watch the Corporation Commission function in the light of day, rather than in secret.

Plutocrats and captured regulators squeal like pigs these days when they're caught undermining the law.

This, naturally, is nothing new. It's been going on in Arizona since before statehood, more than a century. That's why Article 15 was written into the original state constitution. Utility and other corporate interests have been working to hide facts and truth from the people ever since. They only succeed to the extent the people are kept in the dark.

In 2015, with democratic/egalitarian functioning of the World Wide Web, despite consolidation of corporate media, concerned citizens are able to teach each other and the larger electorate about the ramifications of regulatory capture.

With those pressures, local corporate media enterprises are both pressed to, and enabled to provide more legitimate coverage/reportage of key issues and problems. Such is the case with the September 1st filing of Tom Ryan's quo warranto complaint demanding ouster of Commission chair Susan Bitter Smith for violation of conflict of interest laws.

Two years have elapsed since this blog first reported on the concept of disruptive technological innovation. Arizona Public Service has vehemently resisted adapting to the disruptive environment of distributed (third-party rooftop solar) generation.

In the interim, major electric power utilities in Arizona have exercised political power to hinder adoption of said disruptive technologies. 

Corporate news outlets have recognized the problem of APS' Dark Money electioneering, sometimes going so far as to acknowledge the brazenness while still reluctantly hesitating to say out loud that APS has used ratepayer dollars to influence elections and decisions of the ACC.

It would be SO convenient, and an apparent relief to reporters and columnists who intuitively know the truth, if the financial records of APS were to be made public. Yet, if they really wanted to tell the truth, perhaps taking a minute risk, they could easily make sound and valid arguments that if APS had NOT engaged in ethically and morally repugnant conduct on these matters, they would have been forthcoming a long time ago and simply acknowledged or denied the charges.

They have done neither.

Then last Friday, local attorney Hugh Hallman filed three applications for rehearing the matter at hand. On Wednesday this week, the only Corporation Commissioner not currently operating under a cloud of direct conflict of interest, Bob Burns, sat with Arizona Horizon moderator Ted Simons for an 18-minute interview.




Even Simons, who doesn't usually get real pushy on issues where there are legitimate opposing views (i.e. when reasonable people can disagree), put Burns on the hot seat. To his credit, Burns (who looked like he had been through the wringer) answered all the questions without being defensive or evasive.

The next business day, APS' attorney worked up the motion linked at the top of this post and filed it early this morning (Friday).

APS' voice, in the opening paragraph, sounds incredibly like that of a petulant teenager caught in immature mischievous activity, rather than the voice of a well-reasoned legal argument.

This morning, Trash Burner Bob Stump who has been caught in a series of lies over the course of the last six months or so, posted this indignant tweet.

Isn't that special? Stumpy apparently can't allow his conscious mind to be aware of the fact that the Checks and Balances Project is simply functioning as a de facto investigative journalism enterprise. Would C&BP even have to do so if the Arizona Republic had been doing its job exposing the corruption at the ACC?

Nevertheless, today, APS appears to have conceded the battle. Don't expect it to give up on the war. Not until it begins taking serious and consistent steps to adapt to the new competitive environment rather than spending millions of dollars to exert political power to stifle the inevitable technological innovation.

The Arizona Republic reported on today's APS filing. Ryan Randazzo appeared on Horizon last night.

So did the Arizona Capitol Times, which quoted attorney Court Rich,
Court Rich, an attorney for TASC, said it’s great that APS decided to forgo its solar fee, but the accusations against solar groups are “really passive-aggressive.”
“It’s like the little kid stomping their foot going back to their room, but still doing what their parents told them to do,” Rich said.
Rich said he needs to analyze the utility’s idea for a cost of service hearing and what that would mean for solar before commenting on the merits of such a hearing. But he said APS’s move shows the utility knows increasing the solar fee outside of a rate case is wrong.
“APS is really going to be lecturing the solar industry on how to act and what to be doing? That’s ridiculous,” Rich said.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Redistricting -- Amicus brief for Harris case

Comes now the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, in North Carolina, to brief the Supremes on the reverse discrimination case brought by Republican interests in Arizona.

Harris et. al. have claimed that the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission favored Democrats for partisan purposes when drawing the legislative district map now in use. Earlier in the month, our extremely partisan Secretary of State Michele Reagan filed a brief echoing the Harris arguments.

As we know, and have rehashed several times, IF the AIRC actually did intend a partisan benefit to the Democratic Party, they failed miserably. Nevertheless, the SCSJ argues (claiming support for neither side) that they are concerned about the one man, one vote principle. That seems entirely reasonable. In North Carolina, they deal with a whole lot of racial and partisan gerrymandering.

Perhaps SCSJ sees a paradox similar in this lawsuit to one in the recently resolved Arizona Legislature case. In that lawsuit, a win for the AZ lege would have given Republicans a dramatically increased advantage in redrawing Congressional districts to eliminate competitiveness. Fair expectations were that Arizona's First and Ninth Congressional districts would have been redrawn to disenfranchise Democratic voters. In which case, California's legislature, which would have benefited also from an AZ Lege win, is controlled by the Democratic Party. Many observers expected the California legislature to redraw its Congressional map to increase Democratic seats, in such a scenario.

If Harris wins this one, Democratic and minority voters will be disenfranchised further. But it seems like SCSJ figures a Harris win could protect North Carolina from more egregious disenfranchisement of Black and Democratic voters.

Here's the conclusion to this latest brief,
For the reasons articulated above, and in order to ensure that federal law continues to protect the individual rights of voters from arbitrary and discriminatory devaluing of their votes, amicus respectfully requests that the Court hold that partisan considerations do not justify larger than necessary population deviations among districts.
The conclusion is as disturbingly vague to me as the declaration at the beginning that SCSJ was not taking sides.
This brief is submitted on behalf of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (“SCSJ”) amicus curiae in support of neither party.
However, the argument itself, as summarized below, belies the fact that SCSJ is looking out for North Carolina interests at the expense of the interests of those in Arizona who have been disenfranchised by the Republican-dominated one-party system in our state.

Summary of the argument as set forth,
The one person, one vote rule for legislative redistricting emerged to ensure “the substantial equality of population among the various districts, so that the vote of any citizen is approximately equal in weight to that of any other citizen in the state.” Reynolds, 377 U.S. at 579. An exception to this rule to accommodate partisan gamesmanship is directly counter to its purpose and role in guaranteeing equal protection. 
This Court’s one person, one vote mandate, derived from the Fourteenth Amendment, is based on the recognition that “[c]itizens, not history or economic interests, cast votes.” Reynolds, 377 U.S. at 580. Nowhere—whether in Reynolds; Roman v. Sincock, 377 U.S. 695 (1964); or their progeny—has this Court taken the drastic step of recognizing advancement of political party interests as a legitimate justification for substantial population disparities among districts. While the application of non-arbitrary, traditional redistricting principles may result in deviations from absolute population equality, discrimination based on political party is an inappropriate method of determining the weight of a citizen’s vote. See Abate v. Mundt, 403 U.S. 182, 185 (1971); Karcher v. Daggett, 462 U.S. 725, 740 (1983).
Holding that a benefit to one political party over another is a legitimate justification for population deviations, particularly in mid-decade redistricting, would have a far-reaching impact in communities that have traditionally faced significant barriers to equality in voting. See Rodriguez v. Harris County, 964 F. Supp. 2d 686, 804 (S.D. Tex. 2013) (“While some . . . imagine that barriers to voting have been eradicated, the record here is replete with evidence to the contrary.”) (internal citations omitted). The last few years have seen a spate of legislative attempts to use an alleged “safe harbor” with respect to population deviations to enact districts that otherwise disadvantage voters who do not support the party in control of the legislature.
One example in North Carolina is the General Assembly’s passage of a local redistricting bill that expanded the Wake County Commission from seven to nine members, and changed the seven members elected to staggered terms at-large with residence districts to seven members elected from single-member districts and two members elected from “super districts” with total population deviations of 9.8%. The local bill, which took away the power of the local government body to determine its own boundaries until after the 2020 Census, was passed only after Democrats carried all of the open seats in the 2014 election. The newly adopted redistricting plan is marked by significant population deviations and bizarre-shaped districts that are not geographically compact, and was created to disadvantage voters who have traditionally voted Democratic. “The population deviations in the new district system are a deliberate and systematic attempt . . . to unfairly manipulate the political process to give greater weight to the votes of Republican voters and less weight to the votes of Democratic voters.” Holding that manipulating population deviations to discriminate against voters of a particular political party is a legitimate governmental interest would strike a fatal blow to fundamental fairness and the opportunity of all voters to participate equally in the political process.
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Without going into detailed analysis of the actual argument (as set forth between the summary and conclusion), it appears that SCSJ is freaked out about what they think the AIRC did with the legislative map. That fear appears to be based primarily on the arguments made by David Cantelme, which Judge Wake, in his dissenting opinion from the district court trial suggested and which the final determination alluded to (i.e., that the AIRC may have had partisan motive in part) but suggested that if that were the case, it was not a material or overriding consideration.

From the final majority decision in Harris from the trial court,
Because we conclude that the redistricting plan here does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment whether or not partisanship is a legitimate redistricting policy, we need not resolve the question. For the purposes of this opinion, we assume, without deciding, that partisanship is not a valid justification for departing from perfect population equality.
Judge Roslyn O. Silver wrote in her (not dissenting) opinion that if, indeed, the AIRC had intended to bestow partisan advantage on the Democratic Party, they failed.
But it is hard to take plaintiffs’ challenge seriously given that the alleged contrivance against Republicans failed. See Adam Raviv, Unsafe Harbors: One Person, One Vote and Partisan Redistricting, 7 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 1001, 1062 (2005) [Page 12, note 71] * (“And certainly it makes sense not to overturn a plan that, whatever the intent of the planners, did not actually hurt their political opponents.”). [...]
Turning to the merits of plaintiffs’ claim, the evidence is overwhelming the final map was a product of the commissioners’s consideration of appropriate redistricting criteria. In particular, the commissioners were concerned with obtaining preclearance on their first attempt.
Perhaps SCSJ is simply practicing a tightrope stunt.



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* The link for Adam Raviv's law journal article appears to be to a different, but related article. The actual link to Raviv's piece is:    http://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1320&context=jcl

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Republican has also filed an official complaint against Susan Bitter Smith

Republican operative Tyler Montague, president of the Public Integrity Alliance, this afternoon filed a conflict of interest complaint against Corporation Commission chair Susan Bitter Smith.

Montague's 4-page complaint, sent to the Arizona Secretary of State and the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, appears to only broadly address the same allegations and evidence cited in the September 1 quo warranto complaint delivered by Tom Ryan to Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

One theory is that this complaint was filed hoping to get Brnovich off the hook politically for the situation. If Clean Elections took action to oust Bitter Smith, Brno wouldn't have to deal with it, perhaps. However, even if either the SOS or Clean Elections were to consider taking action, they would go to and through the Arizona Attorney General's office which represents both agencies, to do so.

It's likely that Clean Elections executive director Tom Collins will review the complaint over the next few days to determine whether his agency could take any action. On the other hand, I'm quite confident the Secretary of State's office would do absolutely NOTHING with or about the situation, even if it actually had any authority to enforce A.R.S. § 40-101.

So, snowball effect notwithstanding, today's complaint has no new material or allegations and does not invoke any additional statutory authority than is in Ryan's complaint.

For a Republican 501 (c) 4 organization to be concerned about the corruption at the Corporation Commission can ultimately only be a good thing. So, if you want to read today's complaint, the hyperlink in the opening paragraph will get you to it.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Corp Commissioner Bob Stump's cheap shot at the solar industry -- UPDATED 9-22-15 1:50pm MST

Couched in esoteric quasi-intellectual rhetoric, Bob Stump earlier this summer took a cheap shot, masquerading as a quaint short story justifying his shameless advocacy on behalf of Arizona Public Service and other investor-owned electric power utilities.

The ironic title of his dubious attack on solar and thinly-veiled knock on a local activist is George B. Green Rediscovers Self-Reliance and Independent Thought. On Friday, attorney Hugh Hallman included the story as an exhibit to an application for rehearing (on the grounds that Stump should have either recused himself or been disqualified from considering the decision on APS' solar fee increase late month) he filed at the Corporation Commission on behalf of intervenor Sunrun, Inc.

Therefore, the story, in spite of any possible copyright claims either Stump or the Edison Foundation might have on it, is clearly and entirely in the public domain. For your reading pleasure, here it is in screenprint images.


The quote above is the first of the June 2015 Edison Foundation newsletter pages dedicated to Stump's story. After reading it, can anyone reasonably argue that the commissioner does NOT have a demonstrable bias against independent companies providing rooftop solar to homeowners in Arizona? The quote appears to be from an industry event on March 19, 2015.


Right from the start, it seems quite apparent that the author projected his biases onto his dubiously fictional George. This story lays bare the fact that Stump has heard the arguments of the solar industry and environmental activists. He clearly understands many of the issues. But he has developed rationalizations that allow him to disregard the concerns of anyone other than the monopoly utilities.



What other purpose could he have had for telling this particular story, other than to turn his nose up at concerned citizens recognizing inevitable disruptive technological innovations and declare those citizens to be misguided fools? 

On this second page of the narrative (above), Stump asks rhetorical questions and then proceeds to answer them, as if making an argument. But he doesn't make an argument, let alone a sound or valid one.
Energy independence? From what? From Middle East oil perhaps? This isn't yet possible.
That's not an argument, but he wants you to think he made a valid argument. There's probably a fallacy name for that tactic.
From the utility? That's not possible, either.
Notice, not only is it not possible YET (like independence from Middle East oil), it's just not possible. From the quote in the first image above, it's as plain as the nose on my face that Stump will do everything in YOUR power (that you delegated to him when you elected him to the Corporation Commission) to prevent you and "George" from ever being able to live off the (electric) grid.
Freedom to do what? Perhaps to become energy independent and engage in choice? George [actually, Stump] feels these are circular arguments.
Nothing more and nothing less than author Stump cloaking HIS bias by projecting it onto his George Green. Stump then fallaciously argues, with an appeal to authority (the National Academy of Engineering), that because the electric grid is considered the top engineering achievement of the 20th Century, there's no possibility for any technological development that could ever make the grid obsolete.

Of course, Stump's absolutely full of beans. Perhaps Elon Musk's introduction of the Powerwall last spring took place after Stumpy wrote his story. Regardless, there's no way a utility regulator could have been ignorant of ongoing R&D efforts to develop home storage of solar-generated electricity.

In furthering his specious argument that there's no way to become independent of monopoly utilities, Stumpy notes that Uber patrons still use public infrastructure (streets) and personal computing devices with the associated apps (application software) use public (actually, in most cases, privately owned) telecommunications networks.

Both of those cited uses of infrastructure constitute false comparisons that do not relate to use of Powerwall or other soon to be available (competing) home electricity storage units. In other words, Bob Stump's projection of his condescending attitude toward renewable energy activists is complete and total bullshit.
George doesn't quite understand how solar companies are competitors with utilities. They provide intermittent energy.
Again, the author uses verbal legerdemain to hide the fact that home storage is an impending disruptive technological innovation that will ultimately make monopoly utilities completely obsolete.
Utility reliability, he recognizes, is the foundation for choice in his life.
How quaintly 20th Century. Perhaps Trash Burner Bob never read Future Shock. He probably also never read the source material for his claim that the grid was the top engineering feat. The authors of the book do not put an artificial ceiling on the accomplishment by limiting it to "the grid." A publisher's description of the book on the top engineering feats describes it thus,
Topping the list is electrification. More than half of the Top 20 would not have been possible without it. Abundant and available electric power helped spur America's economic development and distributed benefits widely, from cities to farms. This achievement clearly shines as an example of how engineering has changed the world.


Ultimately, Stump's little missive is actually an unsound argument for use of YOUR governmental authority to stifle innovation. Nothing more. Nothing less.

That, my friends, is an abuse of the authority voters delegated to him. (How long) should he be allowed to continue in office?

Tom Ryan was absolutely correct in his statement earlier this month that it's time to bulldoze the entire commission and start over from scratch.

UPDATE          UPDATE          UPDATE


Just how corrupt AND out-of-date is Trash Burner Bob Stump? Consider this contemporary (Monday) news about home electricity storage, by environmental blogger Renee Cho.
“The worldwide transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is under way …” according to the Earth Policy Institute’s new book, The Great Transition.
Between 2006 and 2012, global solar photovoltaic’s (PV) annual capacity grew 190 percent, while wind energy’s annual capacity grew 40 percent, reported the International Renewable Energy Agency. The agency projects that by 2030, solar PV capacity will be nine times what it was in 2013; wind power could increase five-fold. [...]
Batteries convert electricity into chemical potential energy for storage and back into electrical energy as needed. They can perform different functions at various points along the electric grid. At the site of solar PV or wind turbines, batteries can smooth out the variability of flow and store excess energy when demand is low to release it when demand is high. Currently, fluctuations are handled by drawing power from natural gas, nuclear or coal-fired power plants; but whereas fossil-fuel plants can take many hours to ramp up, batteries respond quickly and when used to replace fossil-fuel power plants, they cut CO2 emissions. Batteries can store output from renewables when it exceeds a local substation’s capacity and release the power when the flow is less or store energy when prices are low so it can be sold back to the grid when prices rise. For households, batteries can store energy for use anytime and provide back-up power in case of blackouts.
Batteries have not been fully integrated into the mainstream power system because of performance and safety issues, regulatory barriers, the resistance of utilities and cost. But researchers around the world are working on developing better and cheaper batteries

Sunday, September 20, 2015

How corrupt is the AZ Corporation Commission these days? Let me count the ways.

First, there's current Commission chair Susan Bitter Smith. I've covered the story, but here's a nice succinct video clip that drives the point home.





By the way, among the evidence of Bitter Smith's conflicts of interest, her family business, Technical Solutions' website has been scrubbed, evidence of those conflicts all but removed -- since Tom Ryan filed the complaint on September 1st. Here's a screenprint shot from the site before scrubbing.



Then we have the letters the APS-owned commissioners filed regarding other commissioners' audacity to initiate proceedings to get APS/Pinnacle West to open their accounting records. Even the very minute action taken apparently freaked out *Tommy Little Stump. If APS has to open its books, we will be able to determine the extent to which the utility has purchased the (new) three stooges. Shouldn't the people of Arizona be able to find out how extensive the net has been cast around the three commissioners?

Arizona's corporate journalists are still skittish about and hedge when they talk about the Corporation Commission. But really, if APS had NOT spent profusely on electioneering, wouldn't they have already denied it and volunteered to open the financial books?

It's almost certain already that the utility invested heavily in the 2014 election, and likely they also played in 2012 when Bitter Smith and Burns were first elected and Stump was re-elected. Not to mention the fact that APS has not denied involvement in the 2013 publicity campaign leading up to the imposition of the dubious $5/month fee now being charged to homeowners with rooftop solar.

Next we learned (well, I just learned this week) about Stump's "short story" published in a utility industry newsletter. The story is ironically titled, George B. Green Rediscovers Self-Reliance and Independent Thought. My next blog entry will address the numerous problems I see with Stump's cheap shot at the solar industry.


* NOTE: I refer to Commissioners Thomas Forese, Doug Little and Bob Stump collectively as Tommy Little Stump.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Wheels of Justice grind slowly, but...

Sun Tzu, author of the Art of War, once wrote,
“Wheels of justice grind slow but grind fine.”
In 2013, not long after the Arizona Corporation Commission was populated entirely by Republican commissioners, and immediately after then Common Cause executive director Bob Edgar appeared in Phoenix to highlight a report on the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council, I wrote,
By the way, at last night's event, panelists remarked about Arizona being a "subsidiary" of ALEC. The event focused on members of the Arizona Legislature. Perhaps the NEXT edition of the ALEC in Arizona report should explore the way the Arizona Corporation Commission is effectively now a WHOLLY OWNED subsidiary of ALEC.
Of course, in 2014, Stump became substantially more brazen in his self-serving exercise of the power delegated to him by the people of Arizona. Enter Checks and Balances Project in March 2015 functioning as a de facto investigative journalism unit, apparently because corporate media, print and broadcast, in our state have all but abdicated responsibility to the public to do that work.

Now we have Arizona Republic editors, like Phil Boas, explicitly acknowledging that abdication. Okay, maybe not explicitly, but making it abundantly obvious nevertheless.

Then today, three very important items were filed at the Corporation Commission. Each of the three items is quite significant and puts Tommy Little Stump on notice that they are, pretty much, screwed. Caught in their efforts to hide their connection to Arizona Public Service.

First, former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Zlaket filed a 7-page letter responding to the letters Tommy Little Stump filed trying to justify opposition to demands for APS to disclose their election spending. Zlaket spanks the three APS stooges quite smartly. I hope it stings. (This evening I'll post excerpts in an update to this entry).

Second, former Republican Corporation Commissioner Bill Mundell and former Democratic Corporation Commissioner Renz Jennings filed letters with the ACC demanding Little and Forese recuse themselves AND requesting reconsideration of last month's decision that put the ball in motion for APS to charge much higher fees for customers with rooftop solar. I'll see about updating to also include excerpts from those letters.

In the meantime, I have to figure that the only one of the five Corporation Commissioners not currently freaked out and running scared is Bob Burns. I'm still not a huge fan of Mr. Burns, but do appreciate (regardless of his motivation) his calls for APS to open their books, even though he hedges somewhat in that regard. Burns is, after all a legacy member of ALEC.

Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped out. Le Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

So, the Arizona Republic's Editorial Page Editor WARNS, don't be fooled!

On Sunday, September 6, four days after Tom Ryan filed his conflict of interest complaint against Susan Bitter Smith, Arizona Republic Editorial Page Editor Phil Boas penned this admonition to his readers, which Chris Herstam posted to Twitter.


It reads,
Sorry, but I have trouble believing that people who have been upstanding public servants in this community over decades have suddenly checked in their integrity. Susan Bitter Smith, Bob Stump and Bob Burns are decent people whom I trust more than some of the self-interested parties who are working hard to marginalize them. There is a titanic struggle underway between old and new power generation, and the players are ruthless on both sides. Do not be fooled.
Herstam, another person with a long history of service to Arizona, quipped when he tweeted an image of the newspaper clipping,
Sorry, but I have trouble believing that the Editorial Page Editor can be this naive. Conflict of interest & dark $.
Perhaps Herstam is right. Maybe Boas was simply expressing his naivete. That would be giving Boas the benefit of the doubt, in my opinion. There ARE other possibilities. I'll leave them to your imagination.

However, when attorney Ryan read that, he was indignant. I believe rightly so. Ryan then wrote his thoughts and sent them directly to Boas. Here's his letter, to which by the way, Ryan says Boas has not responded. The text of the letter follows, published with the author's permission.
Re: "Politics of Personal Destruction"
Dear Mr. Boas: 
On Sunday, September 7, 2015, you posted an opinion at the top of the Viewpoints Section entitled "Don't Fall for the Politics of Personal Destruction." Although you did not mention my name, you directed your comments - in part - to the Complaint I filed last week seeking the removal of Commissioner Susan Bitter Smith. Since I am the only one who did that, I assume your comments were - in part- directed at me. You referenced my complaint as the work of a "self-interested" party "working hard to marginalize" Susan Bitter Smith. You also expressed that you had "trouble believing" that an "upstanding public servant" like Susan Bitter Smith over decades "would have suddenly checked in [her] integrity."
Let me answer your criticism of self-dealing on my part. I do not work for any group, any political interest or at the direction of anyone. I was not asked to do this nor was I paid to do this. I seek no public office. My sole interest in filing the complaint was to bring to the attention of the Attorney General a matter of state wide importance. This is not the first time I have taken on a matter of political importance for the State of Arizona on a pro bono basis.
So what evidence do you have that I did this at the behest of a group or for financial gain? Unlike you, I provided nearly 400 pages of documents to back up what I said about Ms. Bitter Smith. What is your proof about me?
Additionally, I emailed you a copy of the Complaint and offered to appear before your editorial board to answer any questions you had about the matter. You could have asked me anything you wanted, including what my motives were and why I was doing this. You did not respond. Instead, you created a fictive narrative about the work that I did and plunked it at the top of the Viewpoints page for all to see. Was that fair?
It took me a lot of time to do the investigation, and to make sure that the complaint was fair, truthful, relevant and accurate. The most difficult aspect of preparing the complaint was to research, read, weigh and balance the evidence I found to make sure that the complaint was fair, truthful, relevant and accurate. I learned lots about Ms. Bitter Smith that I did not put into the complaint because such information didn't meet all four elements of my criteria. Let me give you an example of what did not make it into the complaint, and also answer one of your criticisms of my work.
You exclaim "surprise" that Ms. Bitter Smith would suddenly check in her integrity. But Ms. Bitter Smith has been previously criticized for lobbying at a time that she should not have. See Grim, Ryan, "House Candidate Still Lobbying Congress," Politico (06/16/2008), http://www.politico.com/blogs/politico-now/2008/06/house-candidate-still-lobbying-congress-009724. I did not include this story because it wasn't relevant to a quo warranto complaint. But it is relevant to your claim of surprise that she has suddenly checked in her integrity. Only a person who has been asleep at the wheel would find it hard to believe that she suddenly cashing in on her influence. Go look at her Technical Solutions website. See where Ms. Bitter Smith crows about her status as a registered lobbyist. See where Technical Solutions holds itself out as a player in the telecom industry. And don't miss where Technical Solutions brags about representing clients before the Corporation Commission. All of this information has been there for years for the Arizona Republic to see. [Editor's note: Bitter Smith's company's website has been scrubbed since the date of Ryan's letter to Boas. However, screenprints of some or all of the referenced items are included in the exhibits to the complaint.]
Maybe you are feeling a bit defensive because a KJZZ Morning Edition reporter asked the questions that the Republic should have been asking about Ms. Bitter Smith during her run for the Arizona Corporation Commission. I don't know that to be true. But if we are going to create fictive narratives about one another, this is one that I could hold onto. Would that be fair? Maybe the Republic has traded access to power in exchange for its investigative integrity. You know, sometimes an editor or reporter can get too close to power and lose their objectivity. I don't know that to be true about you or the Republic. But right now it feels "truthy" to me. But just because it feels "truthy'' should I believe it to be true? Would an accusation that you are too close to the powerful in this town be fair to say about you or the Republic?
You should go do what Kristena Hansen and Brahm Resnik did: go out and talk to people. Go ask the residents of the Desert Crown Ill Homeowners Association how they felt when the Chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission told them that a 55-foot high, 69KV line substation was going to be moved right behind their luxury homes. I did. They felt that there was nothing they could do with the Chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission telling them that the APS substation was going to get moved right behind their homes to accommodate the third richest man in Arizona!! If Ms. Bitter Smith can do this to multi-millionaires what could she do to a little guy like me? Or my children and grandchildren who live in this State? (Now you are getting to the core of my motivation in all of this.)
And, by the way: Where was the Arizona Republic on this issue? Why wasn't your paper out in front on this issue of the Chair of the ACC muscling homeowners to help out the rich and powerful? There was a time when the Arizona Republic/Phoenix Gazette was in the vanguard of ferreting out land fraud and public corruption. They had reporters who got out of their chairs and away from their desks and took on risky, scary stories. Did that courage all get blown up on June 2, 1976?So let me ask you: what should a citizen do when he learns of public corruption? What if a candidate for the legislature is discovered to be clearly lying about his residency while running for office? Should the citizen shut up and ignore it? Or should something be done about it? What if a Senate President running a recall campaign is discovered to be running a sham candidate to divert votes? Should the citizen shut up and ignore it? Or should something be done about it? And what if an Arizona Attorney General is discovered to be running his re-election campaign using his Executive Office and Executive staff on the public tab? Should the citizen shut up and ignore it? Or should something be done about it? Your "Politics of Personal Destruction" statement says I should have just shut up about it in each of those instances.
I don't blog. I don't tweet. I don't have the power of an editorial page of the largest newspaper in the State like you. I do not have any expectation that you would in any way correct your fictive narrative about me. You ended your opinion piece with a dire warning ... "Do not be fooled." I am not the one doing the fooling here. I will never be afraid to call out the political frauds in this State. I'd like to think the Arizona Republic would do the same.
Very truly yours,
LAW OFFICE OF THOMAS M. RYAN
Thomas M. Ryan
-----

On the other hand, I'm not so sure I'd give Boas the benefit of the doubt. Without any knowledge of ulterior motives he may or may not have, is it much of a stretch for a newspaper editor who has lived in the environment of a financially withering industry (or at least the commercial business model in which the Republic operates) to rationalize excuses for it's decisions to NOT pursue investigations critical to upholding the public trust?

As is well known, Boas is a son-in-law of Maricopa County's nativist sheriff, Joseph Arpaio. The Republic this week is running a serial story publicizing Arpaio. While that story may proffer some criticism, it IS publicity for the sheriff. Today's installment was titled, "A Nation meets 'Sheriff Joe.'" The pictures posted with today's installment don't look like a fair characterization of a public official with a long history of corruption (losing dozens or more civil lawsuits alleging abuse in his jails; misuse of $100 million in taxpayer funds; admission of contempt of court with possible criminal contempt charges pending, etc.)

(photo courtesy Arizona Republic/fair use)

The bottom line for me is that I lay responsibility -- for Arizona's status as having the most corrupt government in the country -- squarely (primarily) at the feet of the Arizona Republic.

Perhaps it's time Nicole Carroll, newly promoted executive editor of the Republic, to find a new editorial page editor.

Monday, September 14, 2015

WHY is Arizona the most corrupt state in the country?

Several times, I've referenced the Harvard study released last fall/winter which found that Arizona has the most corrupt state government in the country.

I found insight on possible reasons for that awful condition when I took the time recently to view the 2014 documentary, Black and White and Dead All Over, about the decline of print news enterprises. Especially stark has been the decline of investigative journalism, or what Sarah Palin would call, "gotcha journalism."
As a journalist I believe my job is to ask tough questions. But apparently, if they are too tough, or the person just doesn’t know the answer, or the answer is the wrong answer, the person can claim a case of “gotcha” journalism. I guess once someone claims the reporter was out to “getcha” then the focus becomes the horrible, unethical, and mud-slinging reporter, and not the candidate.
In Arizona, all lying pols have to do sometimes is call up editors and publishers and accuse the reporters. The bean counters in those organizations HATE the possibility of losing either advertising revenue or access. So, reporters are reeled in and we get the Ryan Randazzo type who does nothing but kiss the asses of people like Trash Burner Bob Stump or APS president Don Brandt.

Former New York Times investigative editor Steve Engleberg mentions the concept in this fair use clip from the documentary,
The result is [when newsrooms downsize, as Gannett, parent company of the Arizona Republic just days ago AGAIN announced intent to offer early retirement to seasoned editorial staffers] that there is less scrutiny of local officials. And when nobody's watching, things happen...city councils, mayors, state governments all over the place are less watched today than they were. And that is going to result in more corruption, as sure as we're standing here.



What's that got to do with Arizona?

The Republic's direct reporting on the Arizona Corporation Commission has been grossly inadequate for the last several years. Just since the Checks and Balances Project began pressing for answers, the ONLY Republic staffer that's been pushing at all for answers (or so it appears to readers) is Laurie Roberts, a columnist. Might she be gone soon? Even her pressure on the ACC has not been enough. But if she leaves, Arizona's REALLY screwed.

Rather than our state's newspapers demanding sunshine on the ACC, they hedge. All you get out of them is "allegations that cannot be proven" because Stump refuses to disclose the content of his clandestine texting communications with Don Brandt, Sean Noble, et. al. But when those same papers reference C&BP, they now call it a "solar industry funded dark money operation."

The irony is thick enough to cut with a ginsu knife. C&BP is functioning as a de facto investigative news enterprise but the intimidated local corporate media calls it what the media, the ACC, and especially Arizona Public Service want to hide about the scandal sitting right in front of them, as plain as the nose on my face.

The Arizona Capitol Times, which functions in the role of community newspaper for the legislature, hasn't embraced any form of investigative journalism in forever. The Cap Times is the epitome of corporate media, lazy for the most part, co-dependent with overt corruption to "ensure access." Without access, they'd have no business model at all.

Then there's former Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger's words,
Corrupt practices that people would never have dreamed of trying because they know that somebody would see them and write about them, they're saying, "what the hell, let's do it." 



Legendary Washington Post investigator Bob Woodward puts the final exclamation point on the argument.

This, my friends, is the nugget.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Was Susan Bitter Smith brazen enough to advertise her conflicts of interest the last four years?

Susan Bitter Smith ran for election to the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2012. She was already lobbying for telecommunications concerns. She won the election that year. No thanks to the corporate media, as they didn't call her out for lobbying.

Perhaps corporate media outlets, such as the Arizona Republic, the Arizona Capitol Times and local broadcast news enterprises had conflicts of interest.

They are, after all, CORPORATE media, not public service media. What was the conflict? Well, we DO have evidence that Bitter Smith paid for advertising her services as a lobbyist before, during and after her election. She apparently still has paid advertising online, at minimum with one corporate news outlet. Arizona Capitol Times, which owns azlobbyists.com, still has a listing for her as a lobbyist. Additionally, Bitter Smith has paid for advertising (which she had to review and approve, so don't buy any "BS" about it being inadvertent) in Cap Times publications during the pertinent time frames of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.




You may view pdf files of those images here. A pdf file with images from her paid advertising on azlobbyists.com from 2012 -- 2014 is also available.

Amazingly, the Arizona Republic, known for endorsing the wrong candidates in many cases, and then hoping nobody notices when those Republicans, as elected officials, do stupid stuff -- did NOT endorse Bitter Smith in 2012.

Though they declined to endorse her, despite the widespread audience the newspaper enjoys (and all the local broadcast news enterprises READ the Republic), they also FAILED to report on Bitter Smith's conflict of interest. Not surprising, really, given that their coverage of the Corporation Commission over the last several years has been incredibly anemic (i.e Ryan Randazzo).

The state's largest paper did, on the other hand, endorse Trash Burner Bob.

The same Trash Burner Bob (Stump) who, in 2013 said he thought utilities should abstain from spending ratepayer money on electioneering, is now scrambling to keep the public from knowing the extent of what he (may have) did (remember Jan Brewer) to illegally coordinate Dark Money independent expenditures.

Circumstantial evidence points to Stump's clandestine efforts to get his cronies, Tommy Forese and Doug Little -- the three of them now known collectively as Tommy Little Stump -- elected in 2014.

Shameless, all three of them, Tommy Little Stump, this week filed letters hoping to stop efforts to get APS to open their books so the public can find out to what extent APS spent on Tommy and Little's election in 2014.

Tommy got down right indignant claiming reports of the Corp Comm wanting APS to open their books amounts to elected officials trying to influence elections.
Commissioners attempting to influence elections in their official capacity through this relationship [as a result of their constitutional authority] would exceed the bounds of their constitutional mandate over public service corporations.
Might one reasonably infer that Tommy's freaked out about something? Might he know that when Tom Ryan called for bulldozing the entire Corporation Commission, he had legitimate grounds to do so? Forese goes on to cite the 2010 Citizens United ruling, and expressing grave concern for the First Amendment right of corporations.
Adopting such a policy would also have severe implications to civil liberties. Public Service Corporations have a First Amendment right to support the candidates of their choice as a matter of free speech. 
THIS is the SAME guy who shamelessly manipulated the Arizona Legislature into passing a law that ALL of the lawmakers did, or at least should have known was fully and completely UNLAWFUL. Forese was the sole sponsor of HB2280 in 2013.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Tommy for making it abundantly obvious that you do NOT represent interests of genuine living, breathing people, but rather the plutocrats who run the utilities.

And then there's Trash Burner Bob's amazing and stunning declaration in his letter. If anyone has ever been unaware of the irony of their own statements, it's Stump. He states,
The irony of the controversy over so-called dark money is this: How can any regulator be beholden to dark money donors when these donors are anonymous?
Of course, this is precisely the problem: a lack of transparency about who is expending funds to elect or defeat Corporation Commissioners.
Absolutely priceless.

As if anyone is going to believe that the chump who refuses still to disclose the content of his clandestine communication with Sean Noble, APS and other "unindicted co-conspirators" doesn't really KNOW the source of the Dark Money that was at play in the 2014 corp comm election?

The more I learn about the situation, the more I tend to agree with attorney Tom Ryan that it's time to bulldoze the entire corporation commission and start over from scratch.

-----

Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped out. Le Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Redistricting: Harris case before SCOTUS

Capitol Media Services reported over the weekend that Secretary of State Michele Reagan has joined with Republican interests in filing briefs opposing the Arizona Redistricting Commission's legislative map (the one currently in use).
PHOENIX -- Secretary of State Michele Reagan has joined with Republican interests in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to void the state's current legislative redistricting plan.
In new filings with the high court, attorneys for Reagan point out the population differences among the 30 legislative districts created in 2011 by the Independent Redistricting Commission. They said this, by itself, raises constitutional questions because it effectively gives voters in some districts more power than others.
Ultimately, what they allege is ONLY what they allege. Lower courts have already ruled that the Harris claims are invalid. This is Wes Harris' Hail Mary Pass with the clock running down. Except, of course, that the final buzzer likely won't sound until next summer.

We don't know who is paying Harris' legal bills for this challenge (Andy Biggshot's wife is one of the co-plaintiffs). Now that Reagan has crossed the line and is taking a more partisan role in trying to stomp down competitive elections (and thereby disenfranchise so many more voters), taxpayers are likely again footing part of the bill.

Harris and his co-plaintiffs (in the SCOTUS filing, they are called Appellants) filed their brief last week. In it, they state that the questions before the justices are:
1. Does the desire to gain partisan advantage for one political party justify creating legislative districts of unequal population that deviate from the one-person, one-vote principle of the Equal Protection Clause?
2. Does the desire to obtain favorable preclearance review by the Justice Department permit the creation of legislative districts that deviate from the one-person, one-vote principle? And, even if creating unequal districts to obtain preclearance approval was once justified, is this still a legitimate justification after Shelby Cnty., Ala. v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013)?
On the other hand, Reagan's brief states the questions thus:
1. Does the desire to gain partisan advantage for one political party justify intentionally creating over-populated legislative districts that result in tens of thousands of individual voters being denied Equal Protection because their individual votes are devalued, violating the one-person, one-vote principle?
2. Does the desire to obtain favorable preclearance review by the Justice Department permit the creation of legislative districts that deviate from the one-person, one-vote principle? And, even if creating unequal districts to obtain preclearance approval was once justified, is this still a legitimate justification after Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013)?
The second question, with the exception of the SCOTUS ruling citation, is identical in both briefs. The first question is essentially the same, but one is slightly more verbose than the other.

It boils down to the hope, essentially by Republican bullies, that SCOTUS will invalidate the justification for competitive districts in the Arizona Constitution (as amended by voters), by severely tightening the threshold by which legislative district population variances are deemed to be insignificant.

A friend, when I posted Howie Fischer's story on Facebook, remarked that if the AIRC intended to give the Democratic Party advantage in the drawing of the legislative map, they most assuredly failed.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours?

Politicians who like taking campaign contributions and other perks from lobbyists and special interests often claim that they do not return favors by putting forth legislation, or supporting/squelching or other related actions, based on the ostensible bribe.

When they say that, are they telling the truth?

Maybe. Just maybe. It's possible those pols/elected officials simply have deficient self-awareness and actually do not realize the influence that those donors have on them. After all, are there not laws in just about every jurisdiction in the United States that prohibit blatant bribery?

Consider a scenario from everyday life in Arizona.

All around us, we are bombarded by advertising and other messaging trying to get us to part with our money in the ordinary course of commerce. I've grown weary of advertising and do not listen to commercial radio when driving. Nor do I watch commercial television. Nevertheless, there are other very powerful mechanisms for influencing compliance on a much more subtle level.

I drive a car. It's actually a 22-year old pickup truck that I purchased new in 1993. It now has more than 230,000 miles on it. As you can imagine, the original tires are long gone. How do I decide where to purchase new tires when I need them?

Well, Discount Tires has been around for a long time. They had (and may still run) a clever video ad showing an older lady throwing a tire through one of their store windows. Doesn't matter what the motto was. The image sticks with me. Even years after the last time I saw the ad.

BUT the other very clever sales motivating tool Discount Tires uses is to offer free tire pressure checks, no questions asked. When I was a kid, gas stations provided free air pumps for bicycle and car tires. These days, if you want to check your tire pressure at a gas station, you have to pay for it. I think 75 cents is the going rate.

Alternatives include having your own tire pump. Inexpensive and compact pumps (keep one in your car's trunk), likely made in China, can be easily obtained at any auto parts, department, or warehouse store. I have one. But if I don't have the time or don't want to get down on the ground in my expensive suit (if I had one), I can just quickly pull through the parking lot at any Discount Tire store. I do so generally once a month. Simple. Convenient. Friendly, and most importantly, NO CHARGE even though the attendant is obviously getting paid to provide the service.

Guess where I went to buy the last four tires that I needed? After all, they've already established a relationship of trust with me.

This is relevant because sitting lawmakers generally go to great lengths to rationalize the access they give to lobbyists. They often say lobbyists simply (and FREELY) provide information not easily available for consideration of complex issues. They are completely correct on that point.

However, when it comes time to level with voters and the news media, they do nothing but deny, deny, deny any quid pro quo. Some might call that tactic "self-justifying rationalization."

Anyway, a Harvard study made distinction between legal and illegal corruption. That's important. Might legal corruption be a root cause of voter apathy?

-----

In Arizona's criminal code (ARS Title 13), there's an entire chapter (26) devoted to the crime of bribery. Section 13-2602 states:

     A. A person commits bribery of a public servant or party officer if with corrupt intent:
1. Such person offers, confers or agrees to confer any benefit upon a public servant or party officer with the intent to influence the public servant's or party officer's vote, opinion, judgment, exercise of discretion or other action in his official capacity as a public servant or party officer; or
2. While a public servant or party officer, such person solicits, accepts or agrees to accept any benefit upon an agreement or understanding that his vote, opinion, judgment, exercise of discretion or other action as a public servant or party officer may thereby be influenced.
B. It is no defense to a prosecution under this section that a person sought to be influenced was not qualified to act in the desired way because such person had not yet assumed office, lacked jurisdiction or for any other reason.
C. Bribery of a public servant or party officer is a class 4 felony. 

Class 4 felony offenses carry a presumptive minimum sentence of one year imprisonment, but with aggravating factors could go as high as 3.75 years.

Can you imagine the cost of incarceration if all of the bribery going on at the Arizona Capitol were actually and successfully prosecuted? Key word there is "imagine." Because we don't, for multiple reasons, know the extent of the bribery that takes place. But we do know some things that give us tangible clues.

First, we know that for decades, concerned citizens have been calling for laws to prohibit lobbyists from giving gifts to lawmakers and other elected officials. Second, we have scholarly analyses of laws and practices that elucidate the frameworks in various jurisdictions that hide, or at least partially obscure, the practice of bribery as "business as usual." Just last December, the Harvard study named Arizona as the most corrupt state in the country.

-----

Many of my friends have already learned that I filed, with the Arizona Secretary of State, a statement of organization for a campaign committee to support my 2016 run for a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives. On Facebook, I also established a campaign page where I will keep friends posted on the latest news and events in my campaign.

While it may be early to say there will be an open seat in the Arizona House for LD26, for the 2016 election, both incumbents, Juan Mendez and Andrew Sherwood, have expressed interest in the upcoming vacancy in the LD26 Senate seat. Sen. Ed Ableser, as Arizona Eagletarian readers know, has announced his resignation, effective at the end of this month.

I believe both Juan and Andrew should be on the list LD26 Precinct Committeepersons forward to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in due time (probably in October). One of them should be appointed to the Senate because they have experience with the legislative process.

Further, I fully support the effort by Tempe City Councilmembers David Schapira, Lauren Kuby and Kolby Granville to implement a Clean Elections funding mechanism for Tempe city elections.

Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped outLe Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century