The irony of Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn’s populist rhetoric
Almost all liberal ideas are cloaked in populism.
From Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party and Huey Long’s “Share Our Wealth” movement in the early 1900s, to LBJ’s “Great Society” of the 1960s and the “We are the 99%” calls of Occupy Wall Street in recent years, the rise of the “little guy” has always been a powerful narrative in American politics.
Now, obviously populism is not exclusive to liberals — The Tea Party and the growing libertarian movement in the Republican Party are two current examples of popular movements among conservatives — but liberals have mastered the art of selling their policy initiatives using populist rhetoric.
“Today, President Obama unveiled a truly populist agenda,” Chris Weigan proclaimed in the Huffington Post after the President announced his plan to hike tax rates on “the rich.” Weigan went on to say that the “free-market-worshipping position of many Tea Partiers is exactly the opposite” of what Weigan would call “true Populism.”
So, needless to say, it’s worth it for conservatives to look closely when any politician start employing populist rhetoric to sell their policy positions.
Enter Alabama Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn.
Dunn has attempted to position himself on the Commission as a champion of Alabama consumers. It’s a compelling political move. After all, we all pay a power bill each month.
But let’s take a step back and look at whether or not the evidence supports Dunn’s populist appeals.
Dunn has decried the public review process the Commission has engaged in to review the state’s utilities.
But after engaging in that process on Mobile Gas, the Commission voted to lower their rate of return by the largest one-time decrease on a regulated utility in recent history, resulting in approximately $2.7 million in annual savings to Mobile Gas company customers.
Clearly the process used by the Commission, which Dunn opposed, resulted in a major win for consumers.
So if that’s what the evidence shows, what then is the reality behind Dunn’s actions?
A quick look at Dunn’s allies in this fight is revealing.
On the side of throwing out the public hearings in favor of formal legal proceedings are Dunn and a host of avowed liberal and environmental interest groups including the AARP, Southern Environmental Law Center, Sierra Club, Alabama Environmental Council, GASP and more.
On the side of open public hearings are Commissioners Twinkle Cavanaugh and Jeremy Oden along with conservative organizations like the Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama Eagle Forum and numerous Tea Party groups.
To use a sports analogy, if those two teams are lined up on the sidelines, which one would you join?
As Yellowhammer has reported in the past, the type of legal proceedings Dunn and his environmental allies are calling for caused 15 coal-fired plants to be closed in Georgia and hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs to be lost.
Over 3,000 Alabamians signed a recent Yellowhammer ACTION petition calling on our state’s leaders to stop that from happening in Alabama.
In spite of Dunn’s populist rhetoric, if he and his cohorts get what they want, electric rates will, as Obama himself said, “necessarily skyrocket.” So the ultimate irony is that the “little guy,” for whom Dunn claims to advocate, will be hurt the worst by his policies.
The Public Service Commission will convene tomorrow to release its findings after reviewing Alabama Power’s business using the open public review process. Alabamians will be looking for responsible results from our elected Commissioners, not more populist rhetoric.