Monday, January 30, 2017




          Almost no one seemed to notice during last fall’s election that yet another line between citizens and immigrant non-citizens was breached. Even before then, there were few privileges and rights that immigrants – both documented and not – could not enjoy in at least some parts of California.

          Drivers licences, check. Illegal immigrant children eligible for state-paid medical insurance under Medi-Cal, check. In-state college tuition, check that, too. Undocumented immigrants even have the right to practice law here under a bill signed in 2015 by Gov. Jerry Brown. And legal immigrants can be poll workers at election time, too, because of a perceived shortage of multi-lingual election officials.

          About the only thing non-citizens can’t do is vote. But wait a minute. San Francisco voters by a 54-46 percent margin last fall decided to blur that, too, for immigrant parents of public school pupils regardless of their legal status. They passed the local initiative Proposition N to give non-citizen parents of public schoolchildren the right to vote in school board elections.

          So non-citizens, even if undocumented, now can help decide who will spend taxpayer money, and indirectly, how it will be spent.

          There is one fly in this ointment, at least for the undocumented. One that local officials have not yet figured a way around.

          Most school board elections in San Francisco and elsewhere coincide with votes on myriad other offices and issues. But noncitizens there are authorized to vote only on school board candidates.

          Does this mean noncitizen parents exercising their new local right will be handed special ballots at the polls or, under California’s soon-to-be-implemented new election system, receive special ballots in the mail? Will they fill out different forms when they register from the ones used by citizens?

          This has not yet been decided, but if noncitizens do receive special forms and ballots, it will be because they’re honest enough to admit their actual immigration status. If they do admit it and get separate, unequal treatment via ballots dealing with only one type of contest, they might just be risking deportation.

          That’s because President Trump has said for more than a year that he intends to deport all illegal immigrants, regardless of how law-abiding they are in other ways. He’s said he wants to start with undocumented immigrants who are also criminals, but that has not changed his ultimate goal of ousting virtually all illegals. San Francisco’s voting records might provide a method for his operatives to locate some of them.

          This leaves local officials a tad perplexed. “We have to craft a really strong privacy policy so if anyone wants to vote we…ensure their contact information…isn’t revealed or given over to the federal government or any entity like (immigration) enforcement,” said former San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, who sponsored Prop. N.

          That won’t be easy, considering that Trump’s Justice Department can subpoena any voting records it likes, just as federal lawyers have done for years while fighting voting rights cases in the old South.

          San Francisco’s school system spent years trying to convince parents of pupils that their records will be safe. That’s one reason the local school databases don’t list citizenship status. There are other complications, too, including the question of whether some parents could vote twice in school board elections if the schools sent out special schools-only ballots to parents, while citizen parents would also see the same contests on their regular ballots.

          So San Francisco has a lot to work through, with no easy solutions in sight. But the city has already taken the issue of non-citizen voting a step beyond where it is anywhere else.

          Yes, in New York City, left-leaning Mayor Bill de Blasio and his sympatico city council have several times considered a law allowing all legal residents, regardless of citizenship status, to vote in local elections. Their rationale is that citizens and non-citizens are equally affected by public policy from tax levies to road building and policing, which they say ought to entitle all residents to an equal voice in local matters. But it has not yet happened there.

          But giving non-citizens the ultimate right belonging to citizens, along with all the other privileges they’ve already attained, would remove most of the motive to do the very basic book-learning needed to become a citizen.

          Which makes this ultimately a destructive practice.

Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is 




          Cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are down about three percent over the last 40 years in California, even as state population is up by well over one-third, better than 15 million, and far more smog-belching vehicles than ever clog the roads. This is a  major public health achievement, and the single biggest reason behind it is the 45-year-old federal Clean Air Act and its provisions for California waivers.

          Despite this and other clear-cut successes, the California waivers vital to this state’s long-running battle against smog may soon be threatened. Those waivers let California set automotive and industrial emissions standards stricter than those in other parts of America, justified by substandard air quality in places like the Los Angeles basin and Bakersfield.

While there is some disbelief in high quarters over climate change and the effects of man-made greenhouse gases, no one doubts what smog can do to human lungs. On any warm day in places like the San Joaquin, San Fernando and Santa Clara valleys, it’s hard to miss the brown taint smog often gives the air.

          But the number of smog alerts has dropped steadily for decades all over California, largely because of the waivers. Rules they made possible are behind generations of smog control devices, industrial smokestack controls and catalytic converters, plus hybrid, electric and now hydrogen powered cars.

          So effective are the California rules that more than a dozen other states passed laws requiring them to adopt for themselves any new California standards within a few years of their taking effect here.

          These advances, plus new zero emissions vehicles and other improvements now in the works, were at first pronounced economic impossibilities by a united front of automakers. Yet, they’ve found ways to make these things both stylish and profitable. Without the California waiver capability written into the Clean Air Act before then-President Richard Nixon signed it in the early 1970s, none of this could be.

          All this is now threatened by the words and record of President Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

          In his confirmation hearing before a Senate committee, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt refused to commit even to keep in place the current versions of California waivers.

          Over the last four decades, the EPA granted this state more than 50 such waivers. Historically, these have been harder for the state to get under Republican presidents than under Democrats.

          For example, a requirement that large carmakers produce hydrogen cars like the Toyota Mirai and other advanced autos now in the works did not occur while George W. Bush was president, even though state officials in 2005 began applying for a greenhouse gas-fighting waiver to authorize it. Within less than a month after Barack Obama took office in 2009, the waiver process was underway, eventually winning approval that July.

          Pruitt, often accused of favoring oil companies and other polluters in his home state, said he plans to review all California’s waivers and might even try to take away powers granted in the past. Never mind that it’s a little late to disinvent the Toyota Prius, the Tesla Models X and S and other hybrid and electric cars.

          It would be one thing for Pruitt to refuse new California waivers despite their many successes. There’s precedent for that. But Pruitt would be treading on new legal ground if he tries to cancel existing waivers.

          This possibility is one reason California legislators retained the law firm of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to help fight off potential Trump administration attempts to nix current state programs. New state Attorney General Xavier Becerra also vows resistance. No one knows where all this might lead under an administration otherwise committed to allowing states plenty of leeway to manage their own destinies on things like voting rights and water quality.

          “When we hear you say ‘review,’” Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts told Pruitt during his hearing, “I hear ‘undo the rights of the states.’”

          It sets up an uncertain future for one of the most positive, successful of state efforts, one that’s been backed by all California governors going back to Ronald Reagan in the late 1960s.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Monday, January 23, 2017




          Prior to 1982, few Californians outside San Diego had heard of Pete Wilson, the moderate Republican mayor of that city and a former state assemblyman. But Wilson whipped the outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown that year to become a U.S. senator, sending Brown into almost 20 years of political exile during which he worked with Mother Teresa and conducted a radio talk show, among other activities.

          Wilson later won the governor’s office in 1988, eventually turning to the right, especially on the issue of immigration, and along the way ushered in today’s era of almost absolute Democrat rule in the state.

          Now Kevin Faulconer, another moderate Republican San Diego mayor, mulls the idea of running for governor soon after allowing his city’s professional football franchise to move 100 miles north to Los Angeles. Faulconer knows the state’s Top Two primary election system, adopted via Proposition 14 in 2010, could give him a leg up not enjoyed by any of the several strong – on paper – Democratic possibilities to succeed Brown when he’s termed out of his second go-’round as governor late next year.

          This will be about party discipline. Republicans saw in 2016 what a lack of that quality can do: Because five at least seemingly credible Republicans ran in last year’s primary for the U.S. Senate seat later won by Democrat Kamala Harris, the party for the first time in memory did not field a runoff election candidate for a top-of-the-ticket California office.

          This came about when former GOP state party chairmen George (Duf) Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, former legislator Phil Wyman and former state Treasurer nominee Greg Conlon all ran.

          With a bare 26 percent of the electorate registered Republican, those five split a smallish pot of votes. Together they netted 21.1 percent in the primary, while Harris topped 39 percent and fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez got 18.9 percent. Top Two then saw Harris oppose Sanchez in the runoff, where Harris won handily.

          If just one Republican had run in the primary, that candidate might have topped the Sanchez vote, and no one would have been quite certain what might happen in a runoff. The GOP lacked the discipline to pull this off. But Republicans saw what happened when credible candidate Ashley Swearengin, then mayor of Fresno, made the runoff for state controller and nearly won.

          It’s Democrats who now face issues of party discipline in the just-begun run for governor. Their corps of candidates, declared and not, includes Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Treasurer John Chiang, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, financier Tom Steyer – star of a plethora of liberal commercials during last fall’s presidential campaign –  and former state Schools Supt. Delaine Eastin.

          If they all run, be sure only one Democrat will make the November 2018 ballot. A primary with so many major Democrats would likely splinter the party’s vote.

          Meanwhile, Faulconer today is the only major Republican officeholder seriously considering a run. He ran second behind Newsom in the first major survey on this contest. But he’s not certain whether to run, perhaps because he knows that if one or two more other Republicans get in, he might not muster enough primary votes to make the runoff. Also contemplating a run is PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who has never run for any office but backed President Trump heavily last year.

          One possibility: If Faulconer and just one other Republican – possibly Thiel – get in and no Democrats get out, the two Republicans could conceivably make the runoff over all Democrats, even in a state thoroughly dominated by Democrats.

          So this time, the Democrats will need to make hard choices. Some current prospects will have to peel off and settle for another office, as Newsom did in 2010, after briefly opposing Brown for governor. Or else, the same thing could happen statewide as did twice in congressional races soon after the advent of Top Two – so many Democrats entered primaries in strongly Democratic districts that they ended up being represented for awhile by Republicans because of a splintered Democratic primary vote.

          So far, no Democrat now running or thinking about it appears to have given this much thought. But unless party officials bang a few inflated heads together, California could see a monumental political surprise.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          One problem in having a President who operates without much regard for facts, truth or consistency – one whose staff has devised the concept of “alternative facts” – is that when he says or promises something, no one can know whether he means it.

          So it was with President Trump’s mid-January promise of “health insurance for everybody,” including better coverage, more choice among policies, lower deductibles and no one left behind – far different from anything his Republican allies in Congress ever promised in their many efforts to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Trump later “walked back” this commitment, promising now only that “There will be nobody dying on the streets in a Trump administration.” Then, in his first executive order, he authorized officials to disregard or delay parts of the ACA, including the unpopular mandate that most Americans must buy insurance or pay a tax.

          For now, details of what some are calling “Trump-care” remain a mystery. But there’s plenty of information available on what Obamacare has meant in California. Here are some facts: The number of previously-uninsured Californians covered under Medi-Cal (the state’s version of federal Medicaid) and the Covered California program of group and individual policies jumped this winter above 5 million – most of whom had no coverage before Obamacare.

          Premiums have risen for them, but so have federally-funded subsidies to help many cover those costs – unless Trump and his allies undo the subsidies.

          U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein says more than 3.7 million low-income California adults would lose health coverage if the ACA were repealed, as Republicans in Congress voted tentatively to do the other day.

          Another 1.2 million here would lose the tax breaks they now use to buy insurance through Covered California.

          But Republicans in Congress, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, insist they won’t merely repeal what exists now; they’ll replace it with something better. Most versions they have floated of that “improvement” would include higher deductibles and lower coverage at greater cost, but the GOP says customers would then comparison shop and see market competition drive prices down.

          Now comes Trump, at first promising something no other Republican ever touted: In a telephone interview with the Washington Post, he promised universal coverage, which Democrats sought for decades but never achieved. He also vowed to force drug companies to negotiate prices directly with both Medicare and Medicaid, possibly lowering prices for seniors on Medicare Part D and for some others.

          Said Trump, “There was a philosophy…that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” Rather, he said, everyone in America “can expect to have great health care….Much less expensive and much better.”

          We already know that if Obamacare were simply abandoned, left moldering beside history’s highway with no replacement, at least some deaths and disabilities would follow. Cancer patients who could previously get no care once again would get little or none. Immunizations would drop drastically. Treatment for everything from kidney stones to the common cold would be cut, with commensurately more epidemics.

          All this could happen if Trump’s still secret new plan for health care doesn’t work and amounts in real life to a simple repeal of Obamacare. Obama claimed in one of his many exit interviews that the ACA has established that mass insurance can be done; Trump’s mixed messages leave it unclear whether he buys this idea.

          And what if Trump-care actually appears and it works? The first reality is that this would likely see Trump and his fellow Republicans reelected easily both in 2020 and in the mid-term year of 2018.

          A second is that if health care becomes available to all at lower prices than today’s, California and America will be healthier places.

          But there is no assurance anything remotely like this will happen, or that it will work if it is mandated. In fact, Trump backtracked at least twice on what he said about universal access to health care. The devil is always in the details, of course, and that’s especially true with any Trump proposal, if only because he so often plays fast and loose with both facts and his own past statements.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

Friday, January 13, 2017




          Gov. Jerry Brown is not listed as a defendant in a federal appeals hearing set for Feb. 9 in a Pasadena courtroom of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But he might as well be.

          For his conduct during an apparent “fix-was-in” rush to judgment by the California Public Utilities Commission could be a major issue in the case, which the PUC months ago reopened for more information gathering because of apparent collusion between the commission’s former president and the Southern California Edison Co.

          At issue is a 2014 PUC decision forcing customers of Edison and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. to pay more than 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost of shutting down the double-domed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), where a $600 million replacement steam generator failed in 2012, essentially destroying the plant’s capabilities.

          That ruling drew fury from many consumer groups because of evidence that officials of Edison, which owns the plant, knew in advance the Japanese-built generator could disable the huge power plant, on the beach just south of San Clemente, near the Orange-San Diego county line.

          Evidence of the alleged collusion, under investigation by the state attorney general’s office for almost two years, includes a napkin from a Warsaw, Poland hotel on which ex-PUC chief Michael Peevey wrote down the essence of the 70 percent settlement during a meeting with Edison executives.

Emails have shown that Brown promised Edison cooperation soon after the SONGS failure. But consumer advocates have sought for years more than 60 other emails between Brown and the PUC that the governor and the commission both have refused to release.

          “In effect, that makes Brown a party to this case,” says Michael Aguirre, a former elected San Diego city attorney now representing a group called Citizens Oversight. “Brown could have gone to the PUC, where he had appointed most members, and said, ‘This is wrong.’ But he did not. This whole thing is about obstruction of justice because they never even had public hearings on it. The public never got a chance to say ‘We shouldn’t have to pay for this.’”

          Aguirre tried to take the case to a federal judge, but was refused on grounds his group had not exhausted all its state remedies. He appealed after the state Supreme Court, also with a Brown-appointed majority, refused to order release of the sealed emails. That means, Aguirre contends, all state remedies have failed and a federal judge should hear the case.

          If the appeals court takes the unusual step of intervening in a state regulatory dispute and remands the case for trial by a federal district judge, Aguirre will be able to subpoena the secret emails and presumably discover whether or not Brown had a direct role in the San Onofre settlement.

          There’s also a chance the entire matter could become moot if the PUC issues its revamped decision in the case before the court hearing and lessens the demand on consumers. And it’s possible new state Attorney General Xavier Becerra will seek an indictment of Peevey, with the closeted emails becoming evidence in that case. Becerra, appointed by Brown to replace Harris, might see this as a chance to establish himself as a fighter for consumers and declare himself independent of Brown, who appointed him.

          Aguirre says he wants to take his case to a trial court no matter what else happens. “They still haven’t held any hearings in this thing and it’s a multi-billion dollar matter,” he said. “There’s been no due process here and no one is holding the commission to account.”

          For sure, if Aguirre gets his day in court, it would lead to much more transparency on the inner workings of one of the PUC’s most significant decisions of the last decade. That’s the very least of what millions of consumers deserve.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          California is in the forefront of most things. From new tax formulas to new movies, TV shows and electronic devices, from pioneering farm irrigation techniques to innovative hairstyles and much more, trends start here and often work their way across the country.

          But almost no one anymore believes California has been even minimally influential in national politics for many years, despite its place as America’s largest and most innovative state.

          This could change if California legislators want it to, just about three years from today.

          California gave Democrat Hillary Clinton a 4.3 million vote majority in the last presidential election, but it didn’t matter much. Her rival, Donald Trump, carried the three states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a combined total of less than one-fortieth that number, but together they gave him almost as many electoral votes as California gave Clinton, and therefore he took the presidency in what he laughably calls “an easy win.”

          Short of seceding from the Union, there is little prospect for California to evade its disadvantaged status in the Electoral College. But there is another way for this state to assert itself, and that can come in the primary election process.

          By allowing its presidential primary to languish in June during the last two election cycles, California opted to have next to no voice in the selection of the two major party nominees for president.

          To regain a large voice in the matter, all California need do is move its primary up into mid-February, about two weeks behind New Hampshire’s protected slot as first primary in the nation and Iowa’s as the first caucus.

          That move would not negate the Electoral College disadvantage now seeing a vote in Montana or Wyoming or Delaware count for about 1.3 times as much as one in California. But it would at least give California a voice in choosing the nominees, something this state habitually allows others to do.

          That’s to our detriment. As Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Mullin of South San Francisco observed in submitting a bill to put California into the first Super Tuesday voting of the next primary season, “There’s not enough discussion of substantive issues that are crucial to Californians.”

          This includes everything from immigration to oil drilling, from affordable health care to water rights and water systems. None of it gets debated in California. In fact, almost nothing was debated in California during the last two election cycles.

          It didn’t have to be that way. There was nothing, for example, preventing California from scheduling its 2016 primary on Feb. 16, one week after New Hampshire. Or on Feb. 23, the same day Nevada Republicans caucused with fanfare.

          Those places each had a voice in the choice, a major one. Would the likes of Jeb Bush and Lindsay Graham and George Pataki, all with major experience in high office, have dropped out as early as they did if California’s winner-take-all GOP primary still loomed? Doubtful, because a California plurality could have provided one of them almost 20 percent of what was needed for nomination.

          Would Bernard Sanders have knocked out Clinton early because of his strong support in California, thus setting up a very different November election?

          These questions are open, but show how a moved-up California might have reshaped things.

          Mullin’s bill would set California’s primary in March in presidential years, compromising with colleagues who believe February is too early. But why compromise on this? If California needs to spend $100 million or so for a presidential primary separate from the ordinary June vote on every other significant state office, why not? That’s a pittance in terms of this state’s budget of more than $200 billion, pennies per person.  It would it be worth far more to allow Californians to feel involved. The savings in psychotherapy bills alone could top $100 million, plus there would actually be national candidate advertising and campaigning in California, something almost unseen here in more than eight years.

          The bottom line is that it’s been unconscionable for legislators to keep the primary in June in presidential years, just so they can have more convenient filing deadlines and leisurely fund-raising schedules.

          The need for an early primary has never been more obvious and hats off to Mullin for being first to do something about it.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

Monday, January 9, 2017




          Once California voters passed the 2000 Proposition 34 campaign finance initiative pushed by former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, it was only a matter of time before state and county party chieftains became vital behind-the-scenes kingmakers.

          Their unadvertised roles became clearer than ever in the last election, where it was primarily money funneled through the Democratic Party that gave the party two-thirds majorities in both the state Assembly and Senate.

          Prop. 34 aimed to make state elections cleaner by setting firm limits on campaign contributions from individuals and corporations. But it set no limits on giving to political parties or how they could relay donations to candidates.

          That’s one reason state party endorsements can be crucial in modern elections here, like the one that lifted new U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris into office over fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez, a 10-term congresswoman. Party money was one big reason Harris dominated their contest from start to finish and now is even being hyped as possible presidential material.

          But party money proved at least as important in legislative contests. Such cash played a huge role in the narrow upset win by Democrat Josh Newman over Republican Ling Ling Chang in an Orange County state Senate district including Fullerton. Newman, whose campaign had little cash before $2.2 million in donations arrived from the state Democratic Party and six county party organizations in various areas of the state, won by just 2,498 votes over former Republican Assemblywoman Chang, who herself got $1.69 million from the state GOP when it realized this seat could give Democrats the two-thirds majority they coveted.

          Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi upset Republican incumbent David Hadley, who had beaten him two years earlier by just 706 votes in a district centered on Torrance. The key factor in this close race was $3.4 million in Democratic Party funds. The Democrats also gave state Senate candidate Johnathon (cq) Ervin $1.47 million in his race against Republican Assemblyman Scott Wilk. Wilk won in their Santa Clarita-area district, with the help of $1.37 million from the state GOP.

          While Democratic politicians have railed for years against so-called “dark money” coming into the state from anonymous donors, they have said nothing about party funding, which often comes from the same kinds of outfits that fund dark money operations, where sources of cash are masked.

          Donations to parties are disclosed. Among the largest contributors to parties last year were the No on 56 campaign organized by tobacco companies, the state’s hospital and Realtor associations, Republican super-donor Charles Munger, AT&T, the California Teachers Assn., Blue Shield of California, PG&E Corp. and a wing of the Service Employees International Union.

          Each party pools the money it takes in, so candidates receiving cash supposedly don’t know precisely how much they got from which special interest.

          The entire process makes party chairmen among the most important players in state politics, even though they are not elected officials and don’t answer to the voters.

          Prop. 34 passed handily when it was on the ballot because it was billed as a good-government measure putting tight limits on what anyone can give to candidates. It did that, but the loophole of unlimited giving to party organizations predictably rendered it ineffective in limiting special interests’ influence in Sacramento.

          Meanwhile, 17 years later, it’s clear that Prop. 34 was inadequate as a political cleanup measure, but rather is doing exactly what Davis and his cohorts appeared to want it to when they presented it in a season of reform fervor: Keeping the money flowing just as before, but in a masked way.

          This measure, of course, could be fixed by another initiative, but there has been no significant interest in that since it passed, either by legislators or clean-government groups like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.

          Which means that for the foreseeable future, unelected party functionaries like current party chairs John Burton of the Democrats and Jim Brulte for the Republicans will continue exerting significant control over the outcome of elections and other California political issues.

     Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is




          No part of state government except the courts is supposed to be more independent and less subject to the sway of politics than the Public Utilities Commission, which decides rates and other practices of California’s largest utilities. That’s why commissioners serve six-year terms, longer even than the governors who appoint them. It’s also why they can’t be fired, not even by those governors or their successors.

          And yet…few government agencies in California are more craven, more slavishly interested in serving the interests of the huge corporations they regulate, behemoths like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas and San Diego Gas & Electric. Commissioners also rule on some telephone company mergers, although phone rates – for both mobile and land lines – are now largely out of its hands.

          Two new PUC appointees from Gov. Jerry Brown don’t figure to change any of this. It’s hard to find any PUC decision of the last 50 years running against the financial interests of those it regulates. This may explain the long-running revolving door between the commission and those companies.

          Two prominent examples: John Bryson, a PUC president during Gov. Jerry Brown’s first administration in the 1970s, later spent almost 30 years as chairman of SoCal Edison. Moving in the other direction was the disgraced Michael Peevey, an Edison president before becoming head of the commission, where he’s alleged to have conspired with Edison executives about how to force consumers to pay most costs for closing the failed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, largely a victim of Edison mistakes.

          Rarely has the PUC been more craven than in Brown’s latest six years. Not only are the interests of SDG&E, where Brown’s sister Kathleen is a well-paid board member, well cared for. But commissioners often seem to follow Brown’s orders as if he could fire them – which he cannot.

          In return, Brown allows figures like Peevey great latitude, so long as they pursue his own green-power aims of making California more and more reliant on hyper-expensive wind and solar energy.

          When Peevey finally left two years ago (he’s still under investigation; no one knows where that may lead under a new state attorney general), Brown replaced him with Michael Picker, one of his close advisers.

          This month, with two commissioners termed out, including another disgraced Brown appointee (Mike Florio, whose helping PG&E in a major case forced him to recuse himself from all further PG&E matters), Brown could have named two independent commissioners. Instead, he chose two more of his advisers.

          Martha Guzman Aceves, 39, has been Brown’s deputy legislative affairs secretary since 2011. And Clifford Rechtschaffen, 59, has been one of his senior advisors for the same time span, working on climate, energy and environmental issues. Previously, he served Brown during his tenure as attorney general.

          These folks together make up the right arm of Jerry Brown. Now that he can’t fire them at will anymore, how likely are they suddenly to become independent of their longtime boss? One indicator: The PUC’s first action after the two appointments was a deceptive filing with a federal appeals court, claiming it has disclosed all documents in the San Onofre case, when at least 65 Brown-Picker emails remain hidden.

          Only the state Senate holds the power to do something toward creating a degree of independence for this commission, now composed almost wholly of close gubernatorial aides. These are not folks with great experience of consumer issues who know how much utility rates can impact the lives of ordinary Californians.

          It’s high time for the state Senate to start asking them tough questions: Will the newbies promise not to socialize with utility executives? Will they promise to reveal quickly the full content of email and telephone conversations they have with those execs and with Wall Street bankers investing in utility companies? Will they stop the long-running “kabuki dance” in which utilities ask for much more in every rate increase request than they know they can get, then happily accept less – but still much more than had before – while the PUC brags on how much it “saved” consumers?

          There should be many more questions. But in state history, there has never been a contentious hearing on a PUC appointment. Will that coziness survive the scandals of the last three years? The next two months will tell.


     Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is