Author Topic: Arizona to Cast Ballots on Clean Energy as Voters Look to Ride the "Blue Wave." What's Next If That Doesn't Work...?  (Read 54 times)

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Richard Mellor

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Arizona to Cast Ballots on Clean Energy as Voters Look to Ride the "Blue Wave."  What's Next If That Doesn't Work...?

Jason O'Neal



As I sit down to write this, it is the day before the 2018 midterm elections.  Tomorrow, voters in Arizona will cast their ballots for governor, both houses of Congress, and the state legislature.  They will also be asked to decide whether energy companies will be required to address climate change from the standpoint of cleaner energy production.  Even if voters approve amending the state constitution with Proposition 127, it?s almost certain that Arizona Public Service (APS) and their political allies will fight back.

In the world that is rapidly changing by the effects of climate change, what is at stake?  PROFITS!!!

Let us be clear about a few points in relation to Proposition 127, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona.  If approved, any company which plans to sell energy within the state of Arizona will be mandated to produce at least 50% of their energy, by the year 2030, from renewable resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, or hydroelectric power.  Currently, most estimates place clean energy production in the state at approximately six percent, however, there is a requirement for that production to increase to fifteen percent (15%) by the year 2025.  If energy companies do not meet the minimums they will only have to pay a nominal amount in fines and penalties.  Left unchanged, Arizona will be the lowest producer of clean energy, along with Montana, in the entire western United States.

Now, this is not an attempt to push my eco-socialist agenda or argue over the details of the facts about climate change.  If you do not believe in the reality of climate change, or that our current world economic system is the driving force behind it, then you should stop reading now.  If you are open to the idea that man-made climate change poses a threat to the very existence of our species, then please, keep reading.

I, along with many others, have come to the conclusion that capitalism will not be able to solve the pending environmental catastrophe associated with climate change.  There will be no amount of technological innovations or market-based exchanges which will reverse the two hundred year trend of pumping excessive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  This is nothing new.  Petroleum companies funded studies on this very topic in the 1970s, but elected to keep the results hidden from the public because their economic livelihoods were at risk.  In 1992, representatives from around the world met in Rio de Janeiro to discuss climate change at the very first Earth Summit.  During the past two decades the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has conducted scientific studies to develop models of what life will be like in the very near future under different carbon emission forecasts. 

They have all come up with the same results? Fossil fuels consumption and the modes of production under capitalism are destroying the planet.  If this sounds preposterous just read the report from the former World Bank Chief Economist, Nicholas Stern, about downsizing and "de-growing" the economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The leader of the the capitalist bank of the United Nations knew that the only way possible to prevent runaway climate change was to contract the world economy.  But, his report was rejected because capitalism is built on continued expansion and growth and it can?t survive without it.  Workers and the planet must be exploited to maximize profits!

Returning the conversation back to the urban metropolis in the desert where I live, nearly three quarters of the state population resides here.  Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the United States and it?s nearly impossible to survive without utilizing an air-conditioner for six to eight months out of the year.  Houses were mandated to come equipped with air conditioning in the 1950s, but it?s even hotter now because the entire valley is littered with asphalt and concrete and has become an urban ?heat island.?  How do we get enough power to these homes to run those air conditioners? 

APS provides electricity for 2.7 million people in the state and they make a hefty amount of money while doing so.  Pinnacle West, the company which owns APS, is publicly traded at a little more than $80 per share and they reported a net profit of $488 million last year.  All of this money was acquired legally, of course, and under the supervision of the Arizona Corporation Commission.  Many voters might not be aware that APS has been dumping large amounts of money into the campaigns of the candidates who run for this regulating agency.  Is it any wonder the AZ Corporation Commissioners approved two consecutive rate hikes for consumers where some residents saw an increase of more than 20% in their monthly electricity bills? 

To protect this revenue, APS called on its allies in the state legislature to keep Prop. 127 from even reaching the ballot.  As far back as April, when petition circulators were still gathering signatures for Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, APS filed a lawsuit alleging illegal activity.  Their puppet whose strings were pulled to spring into action was Vince Leach, a Republican member of the state legislature from Tucson.  It is of great importance to remember Leach was also involved in the recent legislation to block cities from banning "dark money" from local election and he is also not a friend to Arizona teachers in public education.  This champion of conservative ideals and big business is also running for state senate.

Although, APS lost their lawsuit against Prop. 127 they have launched a misinformation campaign linking higher energy costs to less money for public schools.  APS has also spent nearly $11 million dollars fighting against Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona.  However, not all of that money was spent on court costs and state corporate commissioners.  All across the state, municipal and county governments were lobbied by APS to pass resolutions against Prop. 127.  Some of the actions may have been illegal, but APS doesn?t care because they have people within the state attorney general?s office on their side.  Another blow against Prop. 127 to scare voters into voting against it appears on the ballot itself.  An assistant within the AG's office inserted the clause "irrespective of costs to consumers" when the final initiative descriptions were approved for printing the ballots for the general election.  This has caused such a controversy that the state AG has threatened a lawsuit over political ads which claim his office is "beholden to APS."  Meanwhile, Arizona continues to burn fossil fuels to produce electricity which accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

Truth be told, tomorrow?s vote should not be portrayed as the favored analogy of David versus Goliath.  A California billionaire named Tom Steyer spent more than $8 million dollars to fund Prop. 127.  This is a step in the right direction, however, and Arizona voters should vote YES ON 127.  After the dust has settled, a discussion should take place on how best to move all energy production to a 100% renewable standard.  We should also be building smart cities, with efficient transportation networks and food distribution systems.  This would require collective ownership of resources and democratic control on the means of production to build a sustainable future based on needs and not on controlling surpluses.  But, this is Arizona and asking voters to work toward that version of the future might be asking too much.  At the moment we will have to settle for the market-based approach to commodifying green energy, but it?s my guess that climate change and the negative externalities associated with it will force us to make much bolder decisions a lot sooner than we think.


What I Learned About Arizona Politics Working for Prop. 127

I moved to Arizona from California with my girlfriend during the first week of January in 2018.  Several months removed from graduating college and without many job prospects in the Golden State we opted for a lower cost of living in the Valley of the Sun.  We were both hired at our first job fair interviews and the future looked very promising.

We were living with my girlfriend?s mother and youngest sister on the west side and my morning commute was only about seventeen miles.  Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the United States and, because most of its growth was patterned after the suburban sprawl of Southern California, the drive would take me close to an hour.  I was working for a non-profit teaching unaccompanied minor children who entered the U.S. without documents how to speak english.  Unfortunately, after only two weeks on the job, I was given an administrative release.  My girlfriend had already quit her position, but she easily found a job as a substitute teacher.  I, on the other hand, had to begin another job search.

Now would be a good time to disclose that I have an arrest record from over a decade ago for a non-violent crime.  Even after ten years, during which time I completed my probation, paid all fines and restitution, became sober, and finished two college degrees, I can not escape the societal stigma associated with being a former criminal.  This fact alone added some degree of difficulty in finding a job.  It also overrode any benefits associated with me receiving an honorable discharge from five years of military service after I graduated high school.

Thankfully in Arizona, there is a law where employers are not able to ask job applicants if they have been convicted of a crime.  However, many employers bypass this obstacle by requiring potential employees to possess a valid fingerprint clearance card issued by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.  This costs money, of course, and can run on average about seventy five dollars for someone to acquire one.  Any arrests and convictions will be discovered by the background check and prevent most people from getting hired.  I was unable to obtain a fingerprint clearance because of my arrest for giving a false statement to a law enforcement officer in 2008.

After a few unsuccessful interviews, and a two-day stint canvassing for a ?progressive? candidate for U.S. Congress, I was finally hired by another non-profit organization in the beginning of March.  This group?s primary goal was to register Latino voters and run public information workshops on immigration law and naturalization.  Because I had spent many months as a volunteer on political campaigns and voter registration in various elections in California, I had acquired a skill set which was well-suited for this particular job.  I was also an eligible and registered voter who could speak spanish and I owned a vehicle.  In less than a month I was promoted I financed a new vehicle which I would use to transport a team to various sites around town to register voters.  My luck would turn before the next week because my immediate supervisor quit unexpectedly and I was forced to give up my promotion and position as team leader.

I quickly transitioned to a position as a petition signature gatherer for another non-profit political organization which was advocating for clean energy legislation in Arizona.  For the next seven weeks I would spend my days in various grocery store parking lots or walking through downtown Phoenix asking people to sign a petition ?for a clean and healthy Arizona.?  The organization was a nationwide staffing agency for political canvassers that had been hired by a coalition of progressive non-profits (including my former employer) in the local area.  This coalition had received about $8 million from a California billionaire who had also founded a non-profit to register 11 million new voters before the 2018 midterm elections.  I was paid $15 an hour with a $100 weekly bonus for being a driver and I was expected to collect on average 65 signatures a day.  When I started there were three offices in the Phoenix metro area and two other offices in Flagstaff and Tucson.

In the several weeks I worked for this organization, I noticed the office had a high turnover rate for workers and by the time I left I was one of the most senior staff members.  As far as the work itself, some days were better than others.  Especially in the beginning when almost everyone would sign, but as the campaign progressed it became a monotonous grind akin to selling products door-to-door.  I can?t begin to count the number of times I was cussed out by people or called a communist.  I had people lecture me about economics, the coal industry, and religion while denying the realities of climate change.  I quit my position in mid-May right before the days of 100 plus degrees set in.  By this time another petition company was hired by the local energy company to run a misinformation campaign to confuse voters into thinking they had already signed our petition.  Our staff members were harrassed by this new company which would send petitioners out to follow our groups as they worked high pedestrian traffic locations.  Many of my co-workers were lured away to this organization by the promises of higher wages and hundreds of dollars in recruitment bonuses.

I had assumed the petition might not get enough signatures because it was designed to be an amendment to the state constitution.  This would require a total of 225,000 valid signatures to be submitted before the first week of July and, because there were two opposing petitions running simultaneously, I was sure that we would lose signatures.  Many people, including circulators, were not aware that a person signing a petition twice would invalidate both signatures.  I had already moved on to my next employment at an educational museum and followed the news about this particular petition as well as the teacher-led petition to restore education funding by raising taxes on those with incomes over $250,000 a year.  When the clean energy petition was allowed to be on the November ballot as Prop. 127, I was amazed that approximately 480,000 voters had signed in support.  However, the more advanced political tricks were about to begin.

The following month I was subpoenaed to testify in court about my employment as a petition circulator.  Apparently, the energy company hired a law firm to represent a pair of politicians who were friendly to their industry and this firm had won the favor of a local judge who ruled they had a right to question every circulator in this case.  They were challenging the validity of the petition signatures submitted to the Secretary of State.  I was one of almost a thousand people who had to show up at court and stand in line to be processed through a single entrance.  If anyone left, or did not show up, their signatures would be discarded.  Once we were allowed into the waiting areas we spent the entire first day registering our attendance.  We were then assigned to appear on one of the next four days of testimony.  Again, if someone did not return to court for testimony on their assigned day, the signatures they collected would be discarded.  When I returned on my assigned day in court, I was dismissed sometime after mid-day because there was only enough time for testimony from about ten to fifteen witnesses.  When the case concluded, Prop. 127 was allowed to be on the ballot because the challengers could not prove a significant number of signatures were invalid.  Coincidentally, this ruling was issued a week after another court had ruled that the education petition approved for the ballot was to be stricken.  That decision was rendered because voters were possibly confused about the rate for the tax increase needed to fund the education budget.  The petition stated there would be a ?one percent? increase and not a ?one percentage point? raise in taxes.  Unfortunately, this is how the system works.  The bulwarks for the defense of capitalism insulate the ruling class from abiding by the collective decision-making process of the people.  We only think we can change things by the political process under the current rule of the two party bureaucracy of capitalism.

Over the next two months the local media ran stories for and against Prop. 127.  Giant yellow campaign signs at intersections tell voters that ?higher energy bills means less money for Arizona schools.?  The Palo Verde Generating Station, which operates a nuclear power plant in the valley, has employees giving educational demonstrations about the benefits and safety of nuclear power.  All the while they are wearing large yellow buttons which state ?No on 127.?  The insanity doesn?t stop there.  When the ballot was sent off to be printed, the Arizona state attorney general?s office had one of their senior attorneys on staff insert the phrase ?irrespective of cost to consumers? in the descriptive title to Prop. 127.

Most voters, if they are like me, are just ready for the election to be over with.  Outside of the continuous news cycles about the degenerate in the White House, or the promise of a ?blue wave,? there are battles shaping up within the states over education and clean energy.  Unfortunately, there are very few candidates running who are not tied to the two political cartels of power and money.  Voters can either choose the blue team or the red one, but no one else.  In the race for U.S. Senate here, the self-proclaimed member of the green team dropped out and told her supporters to vote blue.  It is not enough to simply vote for the Democratic Party candidate.  Community groups and organizations need to continue to hold them accountable to voters and the constituents they claim to represent.  Only then will voters see that both major parties are the same when pushed to confront the economic programs of the ruling class.  Democrats and Republicans will always side with the wealthy elite because they want to keep their campaign contributions intact.  Big business allies of the two parties of capital are funneling millions of dollars into the campaigns of their preferred candidates or propositions.  In some cases even contributing directly to the political parties themselves.  The individual voter, or groups of voters in a community, have limited resources to challenge the powers that be.  While working families and the poor struggle to find work, pay rent, and put food on the table, decisions which directly affect their lives are being made without their consent or input.  Case in point, this particular clean energy initiative was never a grassroots movement from the start.  But, it does address the need for our society to transition energy production into the twenty first century with cleaner forms of fuel.  Win or lose, after tomorrow?s vote, we will have to decide how best to address the existential crisis of climate change and perhaps begin to question the logic of relying on these top-down forms of political action in the future.

Source: Arizona to Cast Ballots on Clean Energy as Voters Look to Ride the "Blue Wave."  What's Next If That Doesn't Work...?