State Senator John Douglas (R-Social Circle) and Tim Echols of Athens were the top two finishers in the July 20 Public Service Commission Primary and will face off in the Aug. 10 runoff. The Patriots Table, a local conservative advocate group, hosted a Public Service Commission District 2 Republican runoff forum Monday night at the Little Red School House, next to the Covington Y on Newton Drive. Candidates answered questions submitted by audience members via note cards.
Both candidates come from varied career, with long histories in public service.
Douglas served four years on the Newton County Board of Education, two years in the Georgia House of Representatives and six years in the Georgia State Senate. He was also a career U.S. Army officer. He believes his history in decision-making is vital in assuming the role of PSC.
Echols is the founder of TeamPact, a Family Resource Network program operating in 38 states that trains young individuals to be the next generation of conservative activists. Echols is a firm believer of education and renewable energy. A lifelong small business entrepreneur, Echols heads several businesses that include Echols Brothers House Movers. In addition, he has served on Governor Perdue's Office of Children and Families for five years and served as treasurer and spokesman for Congressman Paul Broun in all of his elections.
Both men emphasized fiscal responsibility in response to most of the questions asked by audience members on Monday night. They agreed the federal government plays too large a role in the everyday lives of citizens and spending had to be curbed to reduce deficits.
The meeting began by explaining the purpose of the Public Service Commission, which is concisely outlined in its mission statement — "to exercise its authority and influence to ensure that consumers receive safe reliable reasonably priced telecommunication transportation, electric and natural gas services from financially viable and ethically competent companies"
Below are few of the questions asked at the forum:
In regard to the role the PSC plays in regulating companies like Georgia Power based on their performance, Douglas felt that the PSC should play a small role, if any. He said the marketplace wouldn’t allow a company like Georgia Power to be technically incompetent, as they would lose customers. He believed these private companies have to be allowed to make a profit in order to expand, as long as they are not gouging the customers.
Echols agreed with the sentiment that a company like Georgia Power is far from technically incompetent and that it is the PSC’s job to make sure these companies address any complaints issued by the customer.
When asked if either candidate would be willing to take a pay cut, both were willing to do so. Douglas explained he had always led by example; the first bill he introduced called for a 10 percent pay cut. Echols said he was not running for the money, as the pay rate of the PSC, over $115,000, was parallel to his current income.
The major difference between both candidates became apparent when they were asked about the intention of moving Georgia’s growing stock of nuclear waste to a federal storage site.
Douglas believed they were already in the process of moving the waste to the Yucca Mountain waste site in Nevada. He said he is a staunch advocate for nuclear power, natural gas and offshore drilling. He believes that nuclear power would be advantageous to Georgia as it is "safe, clean and effective." He hopes to expand the state’s nuclear program in the near future.
Echols pointed out that President Obama had shut down the operations in Yucca Mountain last year even though the taxpayers had already paid for the construction. He related the Obama Administration’s shut down of Yucca Mountain to his concerns about Georgia Power pre-charging customers for the construction of their power facilities like Plant Vogtle. The Georgia State Assembly passed S.B. 31 in April 2009, which allows private companies to change "any rate, charge, classification, or service, so as to provide for a utility to recover from its customers the costs of financing associated with the construction of a nuclear generating plant."
Echols fears that because the operation could be shut down at any time, or if a resident moves or dies, the taxpayer dollars would have gone to waste. He believes it is not the rate payer’s job to pay for something they may not get in the end.
Douglas counters that the passing of S.B. 31 was not only voted on almost unanimously, but is also Economics 101, using the SPLOST as an example.
"A SPLOST is a pay ahead for schools, hospitals and roads," Douglas said. "Let’s take a bond issue for building a school. That is a pay-ahead for building a school. You go buy a car. Before you take that car off the lot, somebody has paid for it, whether it’s you or the bank. So to stand up here and say that this is a new precedent and that we shouldn’t have done this, it’s Economics 101. We do it all the time with taxpayers’ dollars. There wouldn’t be another school or hospital without it being paid for ahead of time."
The candidates also differed on the role of PSC enforcement in regard to those household movers and limousine drivers who operate without PSC issued permits that verify proof of proper insurance, financial viability and safety records.
Echols was for more PSC enforcement officers to stop those that cheat the system, hurting those that follow the rules. Douglas anticipated next year’s budget cuts and felt that by allowing these companies to interact freely in the marketplace, it will save the PSC and the taxpayers’ money.
On the question of how they would measure the effectiveness of the PSC, Douglas felt that the PSC was doing a great job, whereas Echols thought the commission could maximize its influence.
"I challenge my opponent to give back every dime he’s ever taken from anybody he’s now seeking to regulate," Echols said. "I believe these regulators and legislators who have cozied up next to these big companies, going to a Falcons suite, Braves suite, NASCAR suite, has made it difficult for them to be objective or to say ‘no.’ I want to be able to say no"
Echols would bring up the challenge later, which compelled Douglas to respond.
"First of all, I’ve never been to Lake Burton in my life," Douglas said. "Number two, I’ve never been to a convention with these people in my life. Number three, Atlanta Motor Speedway is in my Senate district. It’s the economic engine for the south side of Atlanta, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure they’re successful and continue to generate revenue for the south side of Atlanta."