…because his opponent Forest Wright ran the most disgustingly dishonest campaign I’ve ever seen.
Wright doesn’t live in Public Service Commission District 1, which is not a disqualification for the office but certainly a red flag – particularly given that two years ago he ran for the PSC seat in a different district that he also doesn’t live in.
Wright is not actually a Republican, regardless of what he purports to be based on his voter registration. He switched parties mere weeks before qualifying for the seat after having been a Democrat all his life. Running as a Democrat in 2012, he got just 20 percent of the vote against Scott Angelle in the Baton Rouge/Lafayette PSC district which is less heavily Republican than Skrmetta’s district – so Wright switched parties to obfuscate who he is. Lots of voters were fooled by the move and it almost worked.
Wright and his friends spent close to a million dollars accusing Skrmetta of being a crook, which is standard fare. If you’re running against an incumbent in a down-ballot race, you’re going to lose pretty much every time – people will re-elect incumbents when they don’t really know much about the race in question – with the exception that if there is scandal or corruption at hand the incumbent can lose. So when you’re running against the incumbent in a PSC race, you’re going to say he’s in cahoots with the power companies and the utilities and call him crooked.
It’s a lie, of course – Skrmetta gets donations from electric utilities, but everybody on the PSC does. The fact is, if you’re not in an industry the PSC regulates you don’t care who’s on the PSC, generally speaking. We know this because Keith Gates, who was a very attractive candidate running against Skrmetta’s main rival Foster Campbell, a noxious old-school Longist socialist, couldn’t raise any money to beat him in a district which should go Republican. And Gates couldn’t raise money for a very simple reason – as much as conservatives across the state might dislike Campbell it wasn’t important enough to them to give money to run him out of office because the PSC didn’t particularly matter. Unless, of course, those conservatives were in industries the PSC regulates – and in that case they weren’t going to touch Gates, because in the event they gave him money and Campbell won they were wide open to some tender loving care on the part of a PSC member with a penchant for punishing his enemies by every abuse of power he could imagine.
Nobody has ever accused Skrmetta of that level of extortion, and in fact Skrmetta has been fairly consistent in denying the utilities rate increases when they’ve asked for hikes based on unjustifiable reasoning. If he was really in the pocket of Entergy and other electric utilities, then it would stand to reason that Louisiana’s power rates would be unjustifiably high because Skrmetta’s PSC was allowing them to steal from the ratepayers. But Louisiana’s rates are among the lowest in the country. Some of that is the miracle of shale gas, and the low price of our main power feedstock, but most of it comes from the fact that the PSC does a good job of keeping the rates down through intelligent regulation.
This is a good man who is doing an exemplary job as a public servant and he has been defamed by Wright. I say this not just out of my own point of view; it’s the opinion of not one but two judges in Orleans Parish who issued restraining orders against Wright to stop him from issuing false attack ads accusing Skrmetta of corruption.
But not only is it the case that the accusations about Skrmetta’s supposed corruption are false, but Wright has no standing to make them. Forest Wright is atrociously dishonest and corrupt – his campaign is nothing more than a power grab by shadowy rent-seeking solar energy providers who are attempting to take control of the PSC. Wright’s funding came almost solely from the solar providers, whether they be out-of-state manufacturers of solar panels or the local retail affiliates. Those companies already have two votes on the PSC; Wright taking down Skrmetta would give them a deciding third.
Why does that matter? Because the PSC is the venue for governing how much electricity power companies must buy from wealthy people who have solar panels on their roofs, and at what rate. Currently, the power companies have to purchase electricity from solar customers at retail rates, something Skrmetta has been attempting to put a stop to without success, but there is a cap on how much power they must buy. The solar companies want to blow the top off that cap, and therefore create massive subsidies for solar companies on the backs of regular ratepayers.
The major problem with that policy? The major power users are industrial facilities, who cannot install solar panels on their roofs and sell power back to the utilities. Electric rate increases affect their bottom line in huge amounts.
It so happens we’re going to get some $100 billion in industrial capital investment in Louisiana over the next several years, because our power rates are among the lowest in the country. But when rates go up to satisfy the needs of the solar industry and pay them off for their takeover of the PSC, the fundamental conditions underlying that investment disappear – and with them, so does the investment.
Meaning that Forest Wright would be in a position to damage Louisiana’s economy so as to pay off his masters in the solar industry. If that isn’t fundamental corruption – benefiting the few at the expense of the many – I don’t know what is.
Everything about Wright’s campaign, right down to the fraudulent Facebook and Twitter accounts his campaign appears to have ginned up in an effort to fake a groundswell of grassroots support (an Obama tactic his Democrat campaign staffers brought with them from previous stops), was spurious and counterfeit.
It is good that Wright lost, though the fact that the race was as razor-thin as it was is a major wake-up call to Republicans in Louisiana who are otherwise drunk with glee over the three congressional races which saw Mary Landrieu, Edwin Edwards and Jamie Mayo shellacked in landslides. Had Skrmetta been a casualty, this could have been a bad night for Louisiana even with those blowout races due to the economic consequences of shifting the PSC to a Hard Left majority.
And had Wright won, that Hard Left majority would have been in place for six years. In 2016, Lambert Boissiere and Clyde Holloway come up for re-election, and in 2018 Angelle will face the voters – assuming he doesn’t win his bid for governor next year. It will be 2020 before Campbell and Skrmetta (or Wright, had he won tonight) come up again. The current 3-2 Republican majority, had Skrmetta lost, wouldn’t be restorable until 2020; Boissiere won’t be beaten by a Republican.
So a major bullet was dodged tonight. We can all breathe a sigh of relief.
But nobody should kid themselves into thinking this problem has been solved. It has not been solved.
Holloway comes up for re-election in two years, and he’s in poor health. He also runs for every other office he can think of, including the 5th District Congressional race this year in which he managed a whopping 9 percent showing in the primary. Holloway is a perfect target for Wright and his solar pals to take aim at in two years, and they will do just that.
Is Holloway willing to raise a million dollars to defend that seat? Is he willing to endure the lies and calumnies and sophisticated Alinskyite tactics of Wright’s operation? Can he overcome such a campaign?
If he cannot, he’s going to have to step aside and make way for a younger, hungrier and more aggressive Republican who can defend that seat and keep the Left from seizing a majority.
Now, there is a way to insure that a campaign such as Wright’s cannot bear fruit. If party primaries are brought back into being in Louisiana, Wright will have to run as a Democrat – in a Republican primary, he can’t beat an actual Republican. And as a Democrat, he’s unelectable, as all Democrats in major races in this state are.
It appears clear that the Left, and the special interests who fund them, are willing to infiltrate the Republican Party to hide from the poisonous brand they’ve created among the Democrats. This has to be stopped. The Skrmetta-Wright race has given us a glimpse of what’s to come.
UPDATE: I actually forgot one of the most important pieces to this – which is the role of the Times-Picayune in Wright’s ruse. The Picayune, of course, endorsed Wright in this race without making any mention whatsoever of the fact he’s yet to run in a PSC district he lives in or the fact he’s lying about being a Republican. Or the fact his entire campaign was funded by the solar industry. Or the fact that the Alliance For Affordable Energy, the left-wing non-profit he works for in his day job, has been promoting green energy policies which cost ratepayers money.
The Picayune did, however, give passing mention to the fact Wright’s wife works for the paper. From the article endorsing Wright…
He also wants to change the rules regarding public comments at Public Service Commission meetings so that it’s more convenient for the public to address the commissioners. He has pledged to refuse campaign contributions from the monopoly utilities regulated by the PSC. One note of disclosure: Mr. Wright is married to Julia Kumari Drapkin, a photographer and multimedia reporter for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.
That the Times-Picayune, whose reporting on the PSC and this election has been thoroughly one-sided and, frankly, deceptive, continues to pass itself off as an objective news source is really not something conservatives and Republicans in Louisiana ought to tolerate anymore. If you’ve got a subscription to that paper, you might consider letting it expire. Just read it online for free.