Hanging Out in Rockford: Judy Baar, where are you?

The old Commonwealth Edison was bad enough with its electrical rates that were 40 percent higher than our neighboring power supplier, Wisconsin Power and Light (Alliant Energy). Now, through some sleight-of-hand stock manipulation, they want to surprise Illinois residents with, guess what, another round of electricity increases under the guise of deregulation. Put 40 percent on top of 40 percent, and you get rates that will be approximately double those of our nearest neighbor and competitor to the north, Beloit, Wis.

Whether you are Democrat or Republican, consider the chilling effect double the cost of electricity will have on our community and its ability to be competitive. What business facility or manufacturer that uses large amounts of power will willingly locate in our community when they can get their juice at half the price 12 miles to the north?

We are one of a very few states that have fallen victim to the deregulation nonsense spread by the folks at Enron through their involvement in and large contributions to the George W. Bush administration. Kenneth Lay was the largest single personal contributor to Bush’s presidential campaign, donating more than half a million dollars. It was these same folks at Enron who perpetuated the fraud on California utilities, deliberately shutting down generating facilities to create a power “shortage” engineered to drive up prices illegally. It was these same folks who hid huge amounts of money in schemes to unjustly enrich officers of their company, the same folks who are now going to jail.

Anyone who thinks all of these boys weren’t all sitting at the same bar planning this simply isn’t paying attention. The former business development manager for Enron now works in Chicago for Exelon, the parent company of Commonwealth Edison. The former Commonwealth Edison, through some questionable stock manipulation, has split itself into two parts, a la Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde. We are being sold a bill of goods about deregulation when, in actuality, the public utilities across this nation (who supply approximately 43 percent of the electricity in the United States) deliver at a cumulative 10 percent cheaper rate than investor-owned utilities. We can thank our former Mayor Doug Scott, who supported this supposed deregulation when he was our representative.

It’s not as if the old Commonwealth Edison needed the raise, they were already profitable by industry standards. They should be; they have some of the highest rates in the nation already. What we are talking about here is gouging, greedy companies getting greedier. Seems to be a familiar story the last few years.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has run a lousy administration. Many Democrats I know are saying he is forcing them to do something they have never done before—vote Republican. He promised not to raise taxes, but then he balanced the budget off the back of business. I surmise that he thought that business being mainly Republican, he stood to lose few votes. I don’t think he was thinking about a lot of small businesses that have Democratic roots: distribution company owners who came out of the unions for one instance, or Irish bar owners for another. I don’t think he was thinking about influential forward-thinking Republicans who want to continue to remain successful in the state of Illinois, either.

Enter the campaign of Judy Baar Topinka. She won the primary, but since then, her campaign has had difficulty finding a topic to move the electorate. Here is one for sure. Everyone in the state will suffer if this nonsense is allowed to proceed. Voters are already burdened by outrageously high gasoline and natural gas prices. In a perfect world, the candidate would announce that if she were elected governor, she would do everything in her power—including investigations into the practices of the top folks over at Exelon and creating legislation to take our power distribution back—to not allow this to happen to the people and companies of Illinois.

Exelon should not be allowed to pull this on the people of Illinois. Let’s buy or take our utilities back. The state of Illinois could certainly do a better job of supplying electricity to the people at reasonable rates. There is absolutely no question, we have only to look at our neighbors 12 miles to the north to find out how. Let’s take back the power business in Illinois. Judy Baar, where are you?

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the June 21-27, 2006, issue

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