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Ratifying a Reformer

As published in the San Diego Daily Transcript

by Vince Vasquez

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A coalition of grassroots activist groups has been recently working to derail the confirmation of a key appointee of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rather than heed the calls of alarmists, state lawmakers would be prudent to embrace a champion of high-tech innovation and consumer choice.

In focus is Commissioner Rachelle Chong, who presently sits on the board of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), regulating privately-owned energy, cable, and telephone companies. The impressions I had of Commissioner Chong when I met her shortly after she took office in 2006, filling a mid-term vacancy, are the same I have today - she is fair, open-minded, and intellectually honest. Chong is now eligible for a full six year term, an opportunity which her record suggests is well-deserved.

Over the past three years, Commissioner Chong has provided crucial leadership that has protected San Diegan consumers and cultivated the prospects of technological ingenuity. Chong’s deft navigation of landmark telecommunications industry reforms has increased the prospects of marketplace competition, lowering consumer prices and improving service quality. Commissioner Chong may be a strong believer in sensible regulations – she has been instrumental in freeing phone and cable companies from obsolete legacy rules – but she is no stranger to the heady responsibilities of industry oversight. As a former member of the Federal Communications Commission, Chong helped set the framework for the premier national auction of wireless spectrum, and oversaw the implementation of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the first major industry overhaul in more than 60 years.

In taking a pro-innovation approach, Commissioner Chong has also fostered growth in San Diego’s green economy. On her first day in office, Chong cast the deciding vote that approved $2.9 billion in state rebates for solar power projects, a program which will ultimately net $200 million for the San Diego region. These rebates have been credited with stimulating an “astronomical” rise in new rooftop photovoltaic panel systems in the City of San Diego, which today has more roof systems and more local solar energy produced than anywhere else in the state.

More recently, Chong co-hosted a policy summit at UC San Diego, bringing together corporate and government leaders to discuss new ways of greening the high-tech sector, an important issue for the 5,200 technology companies in San Diego County, whose energy-intensive activities are under continued threat of fiat from Sacramento.

Though Chong’s presence at the CPUC has benefited the San Diego region, she is now facing considerable opposition from state industry activist groups, including the San Diego-based Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN), which are espousing baseless accusations of the Commissioner subjecting consumers to “skyrocketing prices, unfair billing practices, and discriminatory pricing.” What’s truly at issue is a fundamental difference of perspective, as Chong takes the view that government power should not be used to constrain profits and pick winners and losers in the marketplace, whereas her loudest objectors often disagree for philosophical reasons.

Chong’s confirmation hearing was originally set for August 26th in the Senate Rules Committee, but has since been sidelined by the ongoing power play between Democratic legislative leaders and the Governor’s Office. San Diego’s representatives in the state capitol should strongly consider pressing for a Chong’s re-confirmation. She has already been confirmed twice by the California State Senate, most recently earning a unanimous chamber vote in 2007, and she should continue to receive the confidence of our state government to objectively fulfill her civic duty.

San Diego consumers and companies depend on government officials that intuitively understand the importance of fostering corporate capital investments and marketplace competition. In these times of fiscal austerity, California needs more forward-looking leaders like Commissioner Rachelle Chong.