Monday, July 30, 2018




          U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein had almost $10 million on hand after winning a 44.2 percent plurality of the June primary election vote; Kevin de Leon had far less than $1 million left over after finishing second with just over 12 percent, enough to get a spot in the November runoff election, but insufficient to scare anyone.

          Feinstein even won fellow Democrat de Leon’s own state Senate district in eastern Los Angeles County by a comfortable 10 percent margin.

          De Leon’s percentage of the primary vote was somewhat less than the 12.6 percent won by the previously little-known Sacramento area Republican activist Elizabeth Emken in 2012, the last time Feinstein stood for reelection. Feinstein won a 49.3 percent plurality in that primary, and beat Emken that fall by more than a 60-40 percent margin.

          Emken was a Republican, so very likely took almost all GOP votes in the runoff. But de Leon has positioned himself as far to the left of Feinstein as any Democrat could, and so won’t draw many Republican votes in November. One late-July poll indicated almost half of all Republican voters will leave the U.S. Senate category blank on their ballots.

Feinstein has never before run against a fellow Democrat, but two years ago, the moderate Democrat and former Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of Orange County got 54 percent of Republican runoff votes.

          All these items give the more moderate Feinstein a huge advantage over de Leon this fall. They help explain why de Leon has trouble raising money from Democratic donors, who would rather put their dollars into congressional districts the party might flip from red to blue, and not make an enemy of the formidable Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco.

          Put it together and it’s clear de Leon may need an act of God to take over the Senate seat Feinstein has held since 1992.

          The primary vote also indicates it will probably turn out to be irrelevant that de Leon had a near-victory with 54 percent support at the California Democrats’ state party convention last spring, which easily topped Feinstein’s support, and later won an endorsement from the Democrats’ executive committee, which comes with some plugs on campaign slate mailers this fall, plus monetary and volunteer worker support.

          This happened because the bulk of both party convention delegates and executive board members today are far to the left of both Feinstein and mainstream Democratic voters, as made clear by the primary results. The current makeup of the party organization is the result of a big push by 2016 supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during local party caucuses early in 2017.

          In fact, exit polls in June showed Feinstein winning about 70 percent of all votes cast in the Senate race by Democrats.

          And yet, de Leon does not appear fazed by the difficulty of the task before him. “Once people make the connection with me, they say, ‘It’s time for a change, I’m with you,’” he told a reporter after the primary.

          But in this huge state, with population and geographic size similar to major nations like France and the United Kingdom, it’s difficult to connect directly with enough voters to overcome all Feinstein’s advantages.

          So de Leon often lapses into the “it’s time for a change” mantra, code words for “Feinstein is too old.” She turned 85 on June 22 and is the oldest member of the Senate. But not even de Leon suggests that makes her ineffective.

          “To say he has a message is a stretch,” said Feinstein’s longtime campaign consultant, Bill Carrick. “He’s trying to say ‘she’s not progressive and I am,’ but that gets shot down every day by what she’s doing in Congress.”

          Feinstein is known as the Senate’s leading gun-control advocate, is a strong abortion supporter and on those grounds was among the first Democrats to declare opposition to President Trump’s newest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

          The bottom line today is that Feinstein enjoys a lead of at least 22 points in recent public polling and even with a party endorsement, de Leon does not appear to have either the means or the money to overcome that margin.

     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





          Many of California’s vital energy, water and air quality decisions of the last few years may have been made in secret meetings involving Gov. Jerry Brown’s office and his appointed heads of key state agencies.

          That revelation emerges from previously withheld emails released by the California Public Utilities Commission in response to a court order obtained by a San Diego consumer attorney who has fought some of its most important rulings.

          The released emails cover several months in 2014, and some remain undisclosed, but there are no denials of the secret meetings from anyone in state government, and they apparently continue.

          There is disagreement about whether these sessions violate California’s open meetings law, designed to ensure decisions are made in full public view.

          The gatherings include aides to the governor and the heads of the PUC, the state Energy Commission, the state Air Resources Board, the state Water Resources Control Board and board members of the Independent System Operator, in charge of California’s electric grid.

          The emails also strikingly reveal that the top regulators meet frequently in private with high executives of major utilities they regulate. Meetings sometimes include division chiefs with the state agencies.

          The group, calling itself the Energy Principals, also meets with executives and officials of renewable energy companies like those building huge solar thermal energy plants in the state’s vast deserts. But there is no indication consumer groups or their representatives have ever been included.

               Subject matter for meetings during the relatively short time period covered by the court order included an infamous and since-revised agreement reached in a secret 2013 meeting in Warsaw, Poland, between then-PUC President Michael Peevey and the Southern California Edison Co. That deal, summarized by Peevey on a hotel napkin, assessed consumers about 70 percent of the almost $5 billion cost for closing the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

          Other topics included renewable energy issues and “peaker” electricity plants used only during power shortages.

          There is no evidence any decisions reached by the Energy Principals group were ever changed by any state agency involved.

          “Essentially, they’ve collapsed the four big energy and water agencies into a single group organized out of the governor’s office,” said Michael Aguirre, the former elected city attorney of San Diego whose demands produced the previously-secret emails. “I’ve sent letters demanding they give public notice of these meetings.”

Some meetings during the time period covered by the emails were held in Peevey’s house in the posh Los Angeles suburb of La Canada-Flintridge and in the home of air board chair Mary Nichols in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles.

          The PUC was the only agency commenting on the meetings, with spokeswoman Terrie Prosper implying in an email that the Energy Principals group still meets regularly. “Discussions among the leaders of various agencies must occur…to ensure the state properly manages resources and considers the needs of California,” she said in an email.

          And a spokesman for Brown told a reporter that “It’s a basic function of government for agencies to work cooperatively.”

          Prosper insisted public notice of the meetings is not required under California’s open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act.

          But a 2003 public analysis of the Brown Act by then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer found the law covers "standing committees of a legislative body." Agencies like those in the Energy Principals group have long been considered legislative bodies under the Brown Act and do give advance notice of meetings. It’s difficult to see how a group of agency heads that has met regularly for years would not be called a “standing committee.”

          But Prosper defended the group’s secrecy by saying “There was never a quorum of PUC members present.”

          “One question this brings up is how broad is the practice of secret meetings?” said Aguirre. “There is no way these meetings should be held in secret.”

          But they have been, and no one knows how long that’s gone on. The bottom line: Agency heads should indeed meet and coordinate their actions, but from now on, they need to do it publicly and provide plenty of advance notice, as the law seems to require.


     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, July 23, 2018




          The way environmental activists in California’s Delta region tell it, there is no part of government in this state more arrogant than the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

          The huge MWD, supplier of water to the majority of the state’s populace, is certainly acting the part as it pushes for a project Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to make an irreversible fait accompli before he leaves office (presumably for the last time) at the end of this year.

          That’s the so-called “California WaterFix” or Twin Tunnels project to bring Northern California river water to San Joaquin Valley farms and urban Southern California via gigantic culverts running around and through the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers east of San Francisco Bay. ( Another desired Brown legacy is the troubled bullet train.)

          No one claims the tunnels project would produce much more water than now comes from the same rivers. But Brown and other supporters assert it would make supplies steadier and more reliable.

His administration and other project backers only lately renamed this the WaterFix because that sounds more positive than tunnels. But environmentalists led by the group Restore the Delta see it not as a fix, but a problem which could deprive the Delta and its fish of much fresh water they now get.

          After substantial lobbying by Brown, the MWD’s governing board without a public vote this summer committed millions of its customers to pay a large share of the project’s costs. About the only recourse customers might have would be voting out many of the myriad city council members and county supervisors who make up that board. This is highly unlikely, so added water charges for millions of customers are pretty much assured.

          It’s much the same in the San Jose-based Santa Clara Valley Water District, whose much smaller board voted narrowly also to help pay the multi-billion-dollar freight. Agricultural water districts in the San Joaquin Valley that stand to benefit most were reluctant to make similar commitments.

          The moves by the urban water districts were the embodiment of arrogance by public officials because they were taken with little public input and without say-so from those who will actually pay. No sooner were those votes over than the water districts and the state formed a partnership for designing and building the tunnels, a move plainly aiming to cement the project in place long before a spade is turned.

          Meanwhile, the only time anything like the WaterFix plan got a full public hearing came 36 years ago, after Brown and state legislators authorized building a so-called Peripheral Canal to bring water south around the Delta via a large ditch. A statewide referendum eliminated that plan by a resounding margin. It became political anathema for decades, but the idea plainly stuck in Brown’s mind. The WaterFix amounts to an updated, more expensive, version of the ditch Brown backed long ago.

          Then there is the move by a Southern California Republican congressman to cement the project via federal law.

          This comes from Rep. Ken Calvert of Corona, one of California’s more secure GOP congressmen, not even close to being a Democratic target this year.

          Calvert in May quietly slipped language into a proposed budget bill to ban legal challenges of the tunnels, a move that could instantly end more than two dozen current lawsuits by local governments, water districts, recreational and environmental groups and tribal governments. To Brown’s credit, his administration after months of consideration, now opposes that bill, but it is very much alive in Congress.

          “A proposal like (this) raises the question: what are the supporters of the tunnels trying to hide?” wrote Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of Mokelumne Hill, the former lieutenant governor who represents part of the Delta area.

          Added Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, “Bypassing due process and violating states’ rights …creates a constitutional nightmare. Tunnels proponents are attempting to rewrite the rules of the game so they can’t lose.”

          The water district votes and the Calvert move both represent almost unprecedented arrogance. That makes it high time for some major public and consumer protests over the manner in which Brown and his allies are rushing the tunnels into reality without permission of the people who will pay for them.

     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




Immediately after firefighters put out the nearly 9,000 separate blazes that scorched more than 1 million acres of California last fall and winter, homeowners began filing lawsuits against the state’s largest electric utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co. Now cities like Ventura and Santa Rosa have joined in.

          The essence of those suits is that utility equipment played a major role in starting the wildfires, as alleged arcing and sparking flew from transmission lines to brush that hadn’t been cleared adequately. The claims total about $19 billion against the two regional behemoths.

          That’s one reason stock in both companies has performed poorly over the last few months.

          But not to worry too much, shareholders. Your companies have a long history of making hay when times are bad, as when PG&E entered what some called a phony bankruptcy during the energy crunch of the early 2000s, emerging much stronger afterward.

          Right now, both companies are demonstrating precisely the same kind of gall (Yiddish word: chutzpah) they have in other previous tough situations. Just last year, at the very moment PG&E was being assessed a $14 million fine for failing to report discovery of flawed records on its gas pipelines, that company began asking for well over $1 billion in rate increases to pay for repairs to the very same pipeline system. Those were the same kind of pipelines that exploded in San Bruno in 2010, killing eight and causing large damage.

          The California Public Utilities Commission, favoring utilities over their customers as usual, eventually gave PG&E a boost of more than $100 per year from each average residential customer.

          The PUC also consistently gives favored treatment to Edison, as when it assessed customers well over half the cost of shuttering the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, closed in large part because of an Edison action.

          That trend continued this spring, when PUC President Michael Picker told a reporter he attributes the massive fires largely to climate change and not to utility negligence.

          His remark very likely sets up a future PUC ruling to let utilities recoup much of their wildfire losses through rate increases imposed on consumers – most of whom do not live in wildfire-prone areas, but will have to fork over anyhow just to keep their lights on. Such increases would be authorized by a bill now advancing through the Legislature.

          This is one clear utility goal as the companies work with similar chutzpah both in the courts and Sacramento.

          As an example, the state Senate’s Insurance Committee has already advanced a bill that might make it easier for homeowners to collect on their insurance policies when utilities cause fires that destroy covered homes. This would lead to less claims against utilities, which want to fob off part of their responsibility onto insurance companies.

          They are also in court seeking to avoid paying gigantic sums for firestorms allegedly spurred by their crews and equipment. California law now lets homeowners collect from insurance companies when utility equipment causes fire damage, even when the equipment is well maintained. The companies urgently want that changed.

          One thing is certain: Both in court and in the Legislature, the deep pockets of the big electric companies give them huge advantages over less well funded and staffed consumer lawyers, many of whom won’t get paid unless they win for their clients.

          And the companies figure to get continued favored treatment by the PUC, which will determine how much they get in future rate increases. Picker’s climate change remark came soon after his agency fined PG&E well over $1.6 billion for actions connected to the San Bruno disaster and its actions before and afterwards.

          Which means that the commission’s kabuki-like rate-making process will soon resume, again seeing both the commissioners and the utilities act like Japanese dancers breathlessly performing a dramatic dance – with the outcome predetermined.

          The utilities will once again ask for astronomical sums, and the commission will cut those requests down a little. But the net effect on consumers’ wallets will still be substantial.

          So it appears that no matter what errors or negligence the utilities may have committed, they’ll still do fine financially, at serious expense to their customers.
     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, July 16, 2018




          Nothing frustrated California’s politically dominant liberal Democrats more this year than having to live with the reality that their holy grail of single-payer health care won’t happen here for years to come.

          This is in part because of fiscal realities – the cost would be enormous. It’s also because of political reality. So long as Donald Trump is President, there’s absolutely no chance the federal government will cede Medicare dues paid by Californians to state government. Those dollars would be a key component in paying for any state single-payer plan.

          So single-payer advocates have plumped since early spring for the next best thing: Moving toward universal health insurance coverage via a massive increase in the number of persons covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program providing health care to the poor and indigent, and including as many as 250,000 undocumented immigrants.

          Once the primary election was over, they began pushing even harder. In fact, vastly expanded government-supported or subsidized health insurance is a central part of the platforms of several Democrats who qualified for ballot slots in the November general election.

          State Sens. Ed Hernandez, running for lieutenant governor, and Ricardo Lara, seeking the insurance commissioner’s post, are two.

          So far, the package of Medi-Cal plans has passed several legislative committees. Even though the state’s new budget mostly leaves this area out, legislative supporters said they would keep pressing it.

          When the bills passed a key state Assembly budget committee, Anthony Wright, executive director of the Health Access California coalition of more than 50 statewide groups, called it “a major down payment toward the goal of a more universal and affordable health system, in a way that can be advanced without the need for federal approval. California has already made great strides…by improving on the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare), and these actions would further fill the gaps that too many Californians fall through.”

          As originally written, the package would have expanded Medi-Cal to all income-eligible under-26 young adults regardless of their immigration status. It aimed to expand the pool of eligible senior citizens from those at 123 percent of the federal poverty level to 138 percent. And it would provide a tax credit to subsidize persons with between 400 percent and 600 percent of the official federal poverty level income.

          These are standard liberal goals, with the exception of adding many thousands of undocumented immigrants to the state’s publicly-funded health care.

          For many, doing this raises several red flags, so that part has for now not survived. For one thing, there’s the question of whether it helps erase any real difference between U.S. citizens in California and immigrants, legal or illegal. If there’s little or no difference in rights and privileges, what’s to motivate the undocumented to work toward becoming citizens?

          This is an era when non-citizens can already practice law here, work as election officials, get drivers licenses and even vote in school board elections in one city, San Francisco. The undocumented poor also may soon become eligible to get a state earned income tax credit.

          One question this raises: how much should citizens subsidize undocumented persons who have essentially sneaked into this country? At a time when millions of Californians are struggling just to make their rent and mortgage payments, is it right to spend hundreds of millions of their tax dollars on health care for the undocumented?

          It’s difficult to quarrel with the need to educate and provide emergency health care to undocumented persons who will likely stay in this country and state for many years to come. Educating them helps create the well-prepared work force needed to keep many businesses here and encourage new ones to come. And both simple humanity and public health essentially demand that undocumented persons with serious, often contagious, illnesses and injuries be cared for.

          But should they have full insurance coverage at public expense, including prescriptions and even elective surgeries?

          That’s a moral issue which probably ought to be decided at the ballot box and not by legislators subject to the blandishments of lobbyists and campaign donors.

    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 dropped word can make almost any written passage wholly misleading and confusing. Imagine if President Trump’s 2016 election slogan had lacked the word “great.” What would “Make America Again” have done for his campaign? Not much.

          This year in California it’s the opposite. One missing word gives the current initiative to repeal last year’s gasoline tax increase much of its impetus and popular appeal (the measure had just over 50 percent support in the first public polls taken after it qualified for the November ballot as Proposition 6).

          That word is “increase.” When Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox and other proponents like former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio take to their campaign rally microphones, they almost always shout “Repeal the gas tax.” Only rarely do they include that extra word “increase.”

          In fact, Prop. 6 would not end the gas tax. No state initiative can do that by itself, since the current total tax of about 77 cents per gallon includes 18.4 cents in federal taxes, something state officials can’t touch. Instead, the current proposal would merely eliminate an increase of just over 12 cents per gallon imposed last year after a narrow legislative vote.

          This, of course, is not the first time initiative backers have been misleading. Back in the late 1990s, when tobacco companies sought to rid themselves of local laws regulating smoking in restaurants and bars, they campaigned for “statewide smoking controls.” Any new statewide law would have overridden the local measures already in place by then in most California cities and counties, the real aim of Big Tobacco.

          Don’t expect the failure of that pro-tobacco measure masquerading as an anti-smoking one – or the failures of most other misleading initiative campaigns over the decades – to deter today’s repeal campaign.

          As of early July, backers of the repeal had raised more than $3.2 million, with more to come, some of it likely from the national Republican Party, which sees the initiative as a way to get GOP voters to the polls in a non-presidential election year when the party doesn’t even have a U.S. Senate candidate. The Republican aim is to preserve some congressional seats now in danger of flipping to the Democrats.

Some of the millions of dollars used to put the initiative on the ballot came from top national Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield. They are almost certain to kick in again this fall.

          But voters would be wise to examine some essential realities of the gas tax increase repeal that would eliminate almost $5 billion in highway and road maintenance funding the measure will produce if it goes forward for the next three years. The measure would also make it harder for legislators to raise gas taxes in the future by subjecting all hikes to popular vote approval. Under another proposition passed in June, no gas tax money can be used for anything but transportation.

          What Cox, DeMaio and other repeal advocates don’t say is that for most motorists, the gas tax increase represents a pretty good investment. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, normally hypercritical of tax increases, reports that every dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements saves $5.20 in car repair costs, while improving road safety and fuel economy.

          Plus, the non-partisan legislative analyst reported while the gas tax increase was under consideration that rough roads cost the average California driver about $700 a year for extra repairs.

          The law threatened with repeal also will see electric vehicle owners start contributing to road maintenance funding for the first time in 2020, at $100 per year. That’s less than the average of $280 a year now paid by gasoline users, but it’s a start toward zero emission vehicles paying their fair share for using California roads.

          The repeal campaign won’t tell voters any of this. And it remains to be seen whether tax increase supporters like Gov. Jerry Brown can effectively communicate this rather complex information to voters. So far, they’ve raised more than $11 million to facilitate that.

          The bottom line question: Will California voters see through this latest attempt to mislead, an effort marked by the simple omission of one key word?


    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, July 9, 2018




          For most Californians, the year-2000 Proposition 34 was little more than a meaningless formality. But not to politicians or political party officials.

          The 18-year-old initiative sets inflation-adjusted limits on what individuals and organizations can donate to candidates, ranging today from $4,400 for state legislative races to $29,200 for those running for governor. But there are no limits on giving to state and local political parties or how they can spend that money.

          This gets little notice from most Californians, even those who examine the fine print on election-time mailers to see who is behind them.

          But it surely means a lot to politicians and their parties. The power these rules give parties to launder money earmarked for particular candidates was behind the bitter and very close race last winter between Eric Bauman and Kimberly Ellis over who would be the next chairperson of the California Democratic Party.

          But perhaps the most dramatic and clear-cut example of political parties’ power to launder cash and pass it along to intended recipients involved a locally well-known power couple during the spring primary campaign in San Diego County.

          The couple: Democratic state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and her husband Nathan Fletcher, a former Republican whip in the Assembly and a two-time loser in runs for mayor of San Diego.

          Fletcher, who converted from Republican to Democrat in 2012 and 2013, with an intermediate stop as an independent, was one of five primary election candidates this spring for a seat on his county’s Board of Supervisors, getting large-scale financial support from the local Democratic Party and some from the county’s labor unions.

          But nothing matches what he’s gotten from his wife. By the end of the primary season, Gonzalez Fletcher had transferred $355,000 of her Assembly campaign funds to the county’s Democratic party, far outstripping other San Diego politicians like state Senate President Toni Atkins ($16,000) and Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria ($9,000).

          The reason was obvious. While Gonzalez Fletcher was giving the party enormous sums, the organization was passing much more to her husband – a total of $680,000, of which he got $188,000 in just one week. So there’s little doubt that Gonzalez Fletcher’s campaign funds were staying in the family.

          The most obvious example of this happening came one day in May, when she gave $50,000 to the party and the very same day the organization spent the identical amount on behalf of her husband’s campaign.

          There was nothing the least bit illegal about any of this. But it’s doubtful California has ever seen a more obvious example of a local party laundering money on behalf of a candidate and his chief donor. Of course, the party could not, did not, use the money to do anything but market its candidate to registered Democrats.

          But that meant Fletcher himself did not have to send mailers or fund phone banking aimed at Democratic voters. Instead, he could concentrate on outreach to voters with no party preference or even to Republicans.

          One thing wrong with all this is that voters have no direct way to track where the money actually comes from. Sure, they know Gonzalez Fletcher and her husband are close allies. But they don’t know just whose money that was previously given to the Gonzalez Fletcher campaign account went to Fletcher. So no one can really be sure who he’s beholden to if and when he takes a seat on the county board. Which makes it difficult to track his motives in votes on development and other key issues.

          That’s the trouble with the entire current state campaign funding system. And it seems legislators want to keep the current opaque system in place indefinitely. About a year ago, they killed a bill making gifts to political parties subject to the same limits imposed on donations to candidates.

          Today’s disgraceful and easily exploited system is a major legacy of former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, recalled in 2003 partly because of his own questionable fund-raising practices. If it remains in place, it will be because of ignorance or indifference by California voters, who could employ a ballot initiative to change the system anytime they like.
     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




          Way back in 1990, when Californians overwhelmingly voted to impose term limits on state officials, critics warned about the loss of “institutional memory” the move would inevitably bring with it.

          This summer, we may see just how much damage that can do. For there’s virtually no one now serving in the California legislature who was there in 1998, when previous legislators and then-Gov. Pete Wilson opted to deregulate the state’s electric grid.

          Their action allowed any electric user to buy power from any seller. It encouraged California’s three big privately-owned power companies to sell off older power plants whose construction expenses had long ago been completely written off. It allowed out-of-state players to manipulate the California’s electricity market and led to the energy crunch of 2000 and 2001, complete with rolling blackouts, frequent brownouts and eventual criminal convictions for executives of companies like Texas-based Enron.

          People now holding office in Sacramento should remember all this, if only because everyone there was at least six years old during the power crisis.

          But this summer, many are acting as if they don’t remember a thing. As if they have no memory of the last time California allowed people in other states to tinker with its electricity supplies.

That’s about the only plausible explanation for the so-far steady progress through the Legislature of a bill that would make this state part of a Western electricity grid with a governing board whose makeup is yet to be determined.

Essentially, it could place California’s power fate in the hands of people from Utah and Idaho who know little about this state’s needs and wants. It could make a joke of California’s own laws governing renewable energy, which dictate that a massive share of the state’s energy must come from solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal or other sources that can never be completely exhausted, as oil, coal and natural gas can.

          California has avoided problems for the last 15 years largely because it has its own agency overseeing the grid, the so-called Independent System Operator, run by appointees of the governor, who would suffer political consequences for any blunders they might commit.

          Not so the proposed new Western regional board, which would be appointed largely by electric industry stakeholders. That’s like letting Enron or its modern equivalent run the grid. The fox would run the henhouse.

          But the plan, known in the Legislature as AB 813, has strong backing from Gov. Jerry Brown, whose term expires Dec. 31, meaning he can never suffer politically for whatever it might produce.

          It passed the state Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee on a 6-1 vote earlier this summer, with only Republican Andy Vidak of Hanford dissenting.

          One who voted for the bill was Democratic Sen. Robert Hertzberg, a rare bird in Sacramento who was around to see the ill effects of deregulation and therefore should have known better. Hertzberg, speaker of the state Assembly during the energy crunch, told a reporter “I generally like the notion of regionalization,” noting that it gives California utilities a chance to sell excess solar energy produced during the daytime into other states. That, some suggest, could lead to lower power rates for Californians.

          But Hertzberg said the current bill doesn’t include enough assurances of protection for this state’s clean energy policies, already threatened by the pro-coal, pro-pollution policies of the Donald Trump administration, to whom the new grid’s officers would ultimately be responsible.

          Hertzberg said he only voted for the bill in committee to give its author, Democrat Chris Holden of Pasadena, a chance to fix it.

          But there is no sign Holden wants to do that.

          And there is also no answer in sight to the ultimate question every legislative bill should answer before becoming law: Do we need this?

          In the case of a regional electric grid, we clearly don’t. We don’t need to get mixed up with states like Utah that draw much of their electricity from coal. We have excess power now, and that’s just fine, so why risk shortages if folks from other states choose to send California-generated electricity elsewhere?

          The answer is there is no reason to do this, and it likely would not have gotten this far if legislators had any sort of institutional memory.

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