TURN Defeats CPUC Commissioner

TURN executive director Mark Toney’s message on the stunning victory in defeating the nomination of Rachelle Chong for a second term as CPUC Commissioner.

Letter From Our Executive Director—December 2009

I wish to share with you news of a stunning victory by TURN in which we defeated the nomination of Rachelle Chong for a second term as CPUC Commissioner! The December 17th adjournment of the Senate means that we are 99.9% assured of her term expiring on December 31st due to lack of confirmation.

TURN had to overcome overwhelming odds and powerful adversaries—namely the combined might of the governor and AT&T—to prevail in our year-long campaign. Winning took everything we had—strategic campaign leadership, exceptional legal documentation, tireless lobbying at the Capitol, powerful online advocacy, deft media cultivation, and outstanding mobilization of allies.

This historic victory in defeating the nomination of Rachelle Chong for a second term as CPUC Commissioner would not have been possible without tremendous efforts by our allies—Greenlining for its mobilization of its network of community leaders and small businesses of color as well as lobbying the Asian and Latino caucuses, Central City SRO Collaborative for mobilizing tenants to frame the Chong confirmation debate as about the future of Lifeline, UCAN for producing documentation of Chong’s decimation of consumer protection at the CPUC, as well as 40 other organizations who sent in letters, made phone calls, accompanied us on lobbying visits, and responded to urgent appeals to take action.

This is truly a historic victory without precedent in California. Never before has a governor’s appointment to the CPUC been derailed by consumers. And Chong had powerful allies on her side—especially Susan Kennedy and AT&T—which we can take credit for defeating as well. It is no surprise that Susan Kennedy, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff—commonly called the most powerful non-elected policy maker in the state—spread the word that Rachelle Chong was her number one priority of all of the governor’s appointments. After all, Chong was hand-picked by Kennedy to replace her on the CPUC when she left the CPUC to work for the governor. Also, in winning this fight, we have defeated the seemingly invincible AT&T, the main beneficiary of Chong’s relentless crusade for deregulation of the telecom industry. Yes, that same AT&T that is the largest corporate contributor to state election campaigns in the state—having contributed to 113 of the 120 senators and assemblymembers in the state.

Senate President Darrell Steinberg deserves recognition for exercising exceptional courage and outstanding leadership in standing up for consumers and taking a stand against corporate interests. Senator Steinberg focused on the merits of the Chong nomination, devoting substantial staff time and energy investigating her claims, as well as ours, documenting complaints, and sending staff on fact-finding missions. That Senator Steinberg made his decision based upon the merits of the evidence to reject Chong’s nomination and not schedule her for a Senate Rules Committee hearing represents the way that political process is supposed to work. The state Senate rejecting a CPUC nominee because of her anti-consumer and pro-industry record is the kind of outcome that goes a long way in restoring faith in the political system.

What makes this success so sweet, besides the fact that we overcame a 1000 to 1 longshot odds stacked against us to win an unprecedented historic decision, is that we have won so much more than simply stopping the confirmation of a commissioner. Let me list a few of the collateral fruits of our victory won by TURN and our allies.

  1. We have elevated our reputation as a political force. Quite frankly, opposition means something only if you have the demonstrated ability to take someone out. TURN’s opposition, or even potential opposition, to CPUC commissioners will be taken dead seriously from now on. Our reputation has been elevated among the legislature, especially our ability to mobilize constituents and major organizations to contact them.
  2. We struck a blow for the principle of protecting consumers. This was the central theme referred to by Senator Steinberg and we need to emphasize that if you don’t fulfill the CPUC obligation to defend consumer interests, you just might not get confirmed.
  3. We saved Lifeline from being changed from a fixed cost program with an affordable flat monthly rate into a fixed benefit program in which a voucher would provide a discount from an unregulated basic rate with no cost controls. Chong’s proposed decision on Lifeline dies with her term expiration.
  4. We struck a blow against the ideology of deregulation in general and telecom deregulation in specific. With Chong’s departure, we have not only halted the crusade for deregulation, we might have the opportunity to turn back the tide and bring some areas back under regulation.

While TURN and its allies need to come together to develop community criteria for CPUC commissioners and develop a short list of potential candidates, we owe it to ourselves to savor and celebrate this victory, and figure out how best to take advantage of the new doors that are now open to us.

Thank you for your solidarity and support!


Mark Toney's Signature