Alabamians should thank the Public Service Commission for providing a playbook on the politics of misdirection. By being even more obvious than her colleagues in the state House and Senate, PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh has revealed the strategy of politicians who want to keep power, but who are reluctant to tackle the state’s problems.
The mission of the PSC is narrow. The elected board and its staff are charged with keeping utility rates as low as possible. The main tool they have to accomplish this mission is the power to hold formal hearings at which officials with various utilities can seek to justify their rates.
This is a tool they have declined to use for three decades. When Commissioner Terry Dunn, a Republican, had the gall to ask in January why they were not requiring utilities to justify their rates in formal reviews, the politics of misdirection went into high gear.
Suddenly Dunn was not merely trying to get the well-paid commissioners to do their jobs. He was rather, according to Cavanaugh, allied to “environmental extremist groups” who were engaged in “a full frontal attack on coal-based energy production.” Cavanaugh complained that a formal hearing would attract “fancy San Francisco environmental lawyers and junk science hucksters.”
Success! The debate over whether the PSC should hold formal hearings was replaced by one about environmentalists and coal.
When the commission eventually held an informal hearing to review Alabama Power rates last month, the misdirection continued. Cavanaugh asked a tea party leader to open the meeting with prayer, and he obliged: “God, we’ve taken you out of our schools. We’ve taken you out of our prayers. We’ve murdered your children. We’ve said it’s OK to have same-sex marriage, God. We have sinned.”
Liberals, every bit as gullible as conservatives, fell for the ploy. They yelled about the insult to gays. Cavanaugh responded with righteous indignation: “What our nation needs is more prayer, not less.”
Success! The awkward debate over why the PSC refused to hold formal rate hearings was forgotten. Cavanaugh now is embroiled in a completely irrelevant battle over homosexuality, abortion and the role of public prayer.
While Cavanaugh is more blatant in her practice of the politics of misdirection than most, she is far from unique. This is politics as usual in Alabama.
Faced with chronic budget shortfalls, a lousy economy, a population with little health insurance and massive health problems, the state Legislature has spent the last three sessions poking the federal government in the eye. It has passed law after law designed not to solve problems, but to distract voters.
If the issue is fiscal responsibility or poverty or health, legislators’ failures are obvious. They prefer to replay the perpetual battle with the federal government; to complain about President Barack Hussein Obama; to bash abortion clinics, gays and immigrants; to glorify handguns.
Alabama’s elected officials have fooled voters with the politics of misdirection for too long. It’s time they made an honest effort to improve the lives of Alabamians.