Among the many positions being voted on November 6 is the rather mundanely named “Public Service Commissioner.” In Georgia we have a government granted monopoly for providers of various utilities (electric, natural gas, telecommunications) and in order to keep Joe Citizen from getting gouged by a state imposed monopolistic system the Public Service Commission was established to allow the citizens to have an indirect voice in keeping prices in check. I suspect that this innocuous naming was a concession to those regulated industries in order to minimize the potential that the public might actually become aware they could exercise such control. Perhaps “Monopoly Justice League” might garner more voter attention.

Why do I bring up this seemingly sleepy little race? Because it is one of those rare circumstances where Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians can (or should) all agree that ethics trumps party affiliation. The incumbent candidate for PSC District 5, Stan Wise (R), has engaged in behavior that while following the letter of the law clearly does not follow its intent. People associated with the utilities he regulates have contributed about 90% of the funds received in his reelection campaign.  I see no need to waste words on painting the obvious conflict of interest. Of course I suppose it is possible such donations had no such influence. Just as it is entirely possible Mr. Wise coincidentally voted repeatedly in a way that benefited the regulated industry at the expense of the citizens. It is possible.

Fortunately there is a choice in the District 5 race: David Staples (L). David has taken a pledge to accept NO gifts of any kind from anyone connected to regulated industries. Although David is a Libertarian, allow me to set aside any concerns those of you who normally vote D or R might have (well I suppose just R, as for the D’s reading this, it should be an easy sell to vote for David insofar as you are voting against the Republican – there is no Democrat candidate in the District 5 race). Even if you disagree with Libertarians on some issues, those issues are irrelevant on the PSC owing to the limited powers the PSC has from an ideological and legislative standpoint (i.e. the PSC can’t legalize drugs!). Basically the PSC votes on rate increases and monitors functions that will impact consumer costs (e.g. nuclear reactor construction). That’s about it. They cannot make or introduce new law. From a financial standpoint a libertarian is the ideal candidate for this position. Just as they turn a skeptical eye to big government proposals for increased spending, they will turn the same skeptical eye toward big utility proposals for rate increases. Likewise, a libertarian will seize on opportunities to enhance free market competition within the boundaries of the current monopoly system. Competition should be encouraged since it can only reduce prices. For example, it is illustrative to see the views of current commissioners regarding competition. Currently the Territorial Electric Service Act of 1973 does not allow any business to compete with a utility in its “region” (turf). This policy has thus far barred from Georgia the possibility of increased use of solar energy through a market based (rather than taxpayer funded subsidy based) approach that would eliminate the high upfront cost barrier. It is therefore illegal for a company to install solar panels free of charge on a customer’s home and simply charge the customer on a per kWh basis just as an electric utility would.

David Staples would vote to allow such entities to enter the market when and if that act is modified by the legislature. However, Stan Wise holds the paternalistic view that Georgia is “far from ready” for such arrangements.  Gee, thanks Stan, but I’ll make that decision on my own, I don’t need your guidance. On November 6 vote for ethics and for choice. Vote for David Staples. See & this interview for more info.