Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Column for May 7, 2002:

The one joke I omitted from the Symington-at-the-Clinton-dinner routine (space limitations) is that he sat next to, of all things, the executive director of the state trial lawyer association. Now, in his political life, Symington was a "tort reformer." But if a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, I guess it's also true that a liberal is a conservative who's been indicted.

The one joke Bob Schuster omitted was the following:

First, let’s deal with Clinton's, ahem, public image problem. State GOP Chair Bob Fannin pretended not to understand why Democrats might flock to see the former president, despite his excruciatingly well-publicized sex-and-lying-about-it problems while in office. “I don’t know what the fascination is with a disgraced former president,” Fannin groused.

Maybe the GOP chieftain should recall the past meeting of the State Republican Committee, where Fife Symington got an enthusiastic, lengthy, and similarly “fascinated” standing ovation. If Arizona Republicans have no problem with their disgraced former governor, why can’t Arizona Democrats enjoy Bill Clinton?

On to the column:


I don’t often dine with former Gov. Fife Symington. It must mean that Bill Clinton really is a transforming political figure.

Now, you might dismiss Fife and me both attending an Arizona Democratic Party fundraising dinner this past week as a “Harvard guy” thing. But you’d miss the point. Actually, it’s a world-class opportunity for political stand-up humor.

You might consider Symington buying a $5,000 table at a Democratic Party dinner as a token of recognition of the presidential pardon Clinton issued during the last hours of his administration. But it’s more than that, really. It showed that there’s at least one debt that Fife wants to try to repay. Of course Symington had to be at the Clinton dinner. If it hadn’t been for Clinton, then odds were Symington couldn’t have been there.

During his speech, Clinton took a couple of moments to explain both why he became a Democrat and why he remained one. In my case, I became a Democrat largely because my father was one. But I’ve remained a Democrat in no small part because I once got involved in a business deal with Fife Symington.

That transaction--the famed Mercado loan--turned out to be like joining the Reserves. When it’s least convenient, you get recalled to active duty, even if only briefly. Before Tuesday night, I previously saw the former governor while I testified for a couple of days as a witness in his bankruptcy court trial. It was nicer to be together with neither of us under oath.

Political dinners also let me buttonhole my favorite utility lobbyists. You might find electricity deregulation boring, but to me it’s as fascinating as, say, foreign policy or spectrum allocation. Thus fortified, let me respond to the recent letter to the editor by the Goldwater Institute’s Robert Franciosi.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that deregulation ignores that the most important things in electricity, reliability and adequate supply--which requires extra capacity. Deregulated suppliers have no incentive to maintain reserves; as Warren Buffett noted, the deregulation model actually gives suppliers incentives to tighten supply, and puts their own interests at odds with the rest of society.

Franciosi slammed me because (1) lots of deregulated businesses, like hotels, airlines, movie theaters, and chip-makers all need reserve capacity to meet peak or unexpected demand, and (2) deregulation will keep nasty people like me away from electricity policy.

Apparently, nobody at the Goldwater Institute has ever encountered a fully-booked flight, then changed their date of travel or decided to drive instead. Franciosi must never go to the movies on Saturday night or had the theater sell out. Of course, he always could decide to see a different movie, or rent a video. However, it’s not clear what we’re supposed to do when deregulated electricity suppliers sell out; run air conditioners on kerosene?

And chip-makers? I’ll bet laid-off Motorola employees (including those yet to get a pink slip) can’t wait to have the strategic vision of Chris Galvin responsible for keeping the lights on.

As for the personal attack, when it comes to deregulation, I’m the conservative. It’s the Goldwater Institute and The Tribune proposing radical and untested change.

Face it--if electricity were health care, then in this debate it’s Robert Franciosi and Bob Schuster who are Hillary Clinton and Ira Magaziner.

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