By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Which could lead to an immediate conference committee between the two houses, raising the backroom specter of how the original deregulation deal went down -- or to ”serious consultation,“ as one legislator puts it, between legislative leaders and the governor, over the recess. And hopefully a lot more public scrutiny.
Would this be enough to fend off an Edison bankruptcy for now? Perhaps. By all accounts, Edison still wants to run a utility, while many believe that PG&E wants out of the utility business. And Edison chairman and longtime Davis friend John Bryson’s ego is heavily invested in this process. So they may continue for a while, hoping for either a very favorable FERC decision or ultimate passage of the Hertzberg bill.
There is, however, one joker in the deck, in the form of a late-breaking bill by Assembly Energy Committee chair Rod Wright (D--Los Angeles), which he describes as ”a straight-out bailout.“ This bill would simply pass on the cost of a bailout to consumers with no state purchase of assets. As consumer advocate Lenny Goldberg points out, ”Wright says he can get Republican votes and block the Hertzberg bill. But it would never fly in the Senate.“ If the Senate bill is the only one on the table, Edison might choose bankruptcy.
The uncertain fate of two high-profile consultants to Davis and Edison highlights the public problem for the utility. After months of indecision, Gray Davis finally acceded to the obvious and pounded away at the White House‘s extraordinarily close ties to the power generators. Two top Clinton-Gore operatives -- former Al Gore press secretary Chris Lehane and Clinton damage-control counsel Mark Fabiani -- played a major role in enacting the new strategy. But the two brought an enormous amount of controversy with them, both because of their $30,000 monthly contract with the state and because of their concurrent work for Edison. So, in a press release issued hours after the close of business one Friday night a few weeks ago -- a press release that was, ostensibly, about the promotion of his press secretary to the role of ”interim communications director“ -- Davis cut the string.
Just a few days earlier, Lehane had brushed aside private and public reports that the two had stopped working for Edison and told me in an interview that there was no conflict of interest there. ”The governor and Edison,“ he said, ”have the same energy policy. There’s no conflict in working for both.“
Let‘s change the quote just a bit. ”The president and Enron have the same energy policy. There’s no conflict in working for both.“ That‘s a quote that would provoke outrage in Washington. If it didn’t provoke outrage in California, it was because the Golden State has become a banana republic.
Under any amount of attention, the relationship couldn‘t stand. So Davis let Fabiani go, retaining Lehane but cutting his pay by a third, and requiring him to stop working for Edison. A seemingly fair result, though some public-interest advocates insist that state conflict-of-interest law prohibits his employment in any event, since his work for Edison occurred within the last year.
Enter Controller Kathleen Connell, who has bedeviled the Davis team with waspish comments and embarrassing revelations of state power contracts. She issues the state’s paychecks, and she refuses to pay Lehane and Fabiani for their work.
The media have reported that the Connell-Davis feud -- and that‘s what it is -- stems from his opposition to her candidacy in the Los Angeles mayoral primary. But its roots sink far deeper than that. It actually began shortly after Kathleen Brown lost her premature 1994 race for governor. While some looked to Senator Dianne Feinstein to come back from Washington and take a shot at the governorship, Davis and Connell immediately started elbowing each other for advantage. While many big-time Democrats who favored Feinstein considered this rivalry an amusing sideshow, it was no less real -- and nasty -- for that. Even after Connell declined to run and Davis was elected, the bitterness continued, often to no good purpose. Indeed, the Davis team probably brought some of this on itself when Davis’ chief political adviser, Garry South, stooped to criticizing Connell‘s hairdo during her mayoral campaign.
So what is to be the fate of Mr. South’s new colleagues? The Governor‘s Office says it doesn’t know, and the question of their receiving payment from the state remains unresolved.