THE REAL STATISTS: Solar issue shows how Walker Republicans are for top-down government, as long as it's corporate-based | WisCommunity

THE REAL STATISTS: Solar issue shows how Walker Republicans are for top-down government, as long as it's corporate-based

Based on Scott Walker's own actions and comments over the years – as in, “I was the original tea party in Wisconsin” – many voters and pundits regard Wisconsin's governor as a mainstream right-wing Republican, “mainstream” in the sense that the tea party has driven much of the party's modern ideology, to the chagrin of some of its putative national leaders.

However, now that he has a lengthening record as a state legislator, county executive and governor, it's becoming very apparent that Walker is fundamentally not driven by the often peculiar politics of his party's tea party wing. Rather, it seems to me, Walker represents the mainstream GOP's continuing fetish for statism.

That idea may raise eyebrows among observers with some knowledge of political science, since statism is often regarded as a government-centric, top-down philosophy -- one that Republicans, libertarians and other ideologues often seek to assign to the Democratic Party and anyone else to their left. But if you could describe Scott Walker in one word, I think it should be statist.

The latest evidence: Contradicting Walker and the Wisconsin GOP legislative majority, tea party activists in Florida are now actively agitating in favor of solar power and against traditional power utilities. And they're going beyond the views of many on the left in proposing a fairly sweeping change in law. The Washington Post explains their interest:

#2a2a2a;">A tea party leader and a conservative state lawmaker are behind a petition to make solar panels more profitable in Florida, reports ;">Ivan Penn#2a2a2a;"> of the Tampa Bay Times. The group is collecting signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would allow residents to sell electricity generated from the sun directly to their neighbors, tenants and friends, instead of giving the utilities a cut.

#2a2a2a;">For conservatives, solar power is a chance to put an end to state-regulated monopolies in electricity and create an opportunity for investment for every homeowner.

This issue is complex, because traditional utilities certainly do have a legitimate interest in being reimbursed for the vast capital infrastructure that allows power to be shipped great distances. The question is just how to configure small, independent solar producers with utilities in a win-win situation that allows alternative power systems to share the grid at a fair cost. But to #2a2a2a;">Walker, his enablers in the state legislature, and his appointees on the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC), solar power is nothing other than a nuisance. Indeed, the Walkerites are pretty much dead set against solar, if you look at the history of their decision-making.

#2a2a2a;">So much for "I was the original tea party" talk. On this issue, Walker's not on the same page; he's not even in the same book.

#2a2a2a;">Contrary to the Florida tea party effort, Walker Republicans have focused on cutting and even ending subsidies for solar and other alternative “green” power systems, very possibly because gigantic fossil-fuel megalopolies – such as those owned by the infamous Koch brothers, have been stuffing GOP campaign coffers. Indeed, Walker recently railed against US Environmental Protection Agency proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Because, hey, who needs to save the planetary ecosystem?  And who needs cheap electric power they can generate right at home? Not the power companies!

#2a2a2a;">With specific respect to the Florida tea party effort, Team Walker has thus been going in exactly the opposite direction. Which is to say (if you'll pardon a play on words from Christian fundamentalism), they're being left behind. Here in an especially understandable nutshell is how Dave Zweifel, editor emeritus of the Capital Times in Madison, a month ago described how the two PSC commissioners appointed by Walker rubber-stamped anti-conservation rate proposals from three large private power utilities:

Within a few days last month, Commissioners Phil Montgomery and Ellen Nowak OK'd plans by We Energies, the Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Madison Gas and Electric to increase their fixed monthly rates for customers' connections to the electric grid while decreasing the kilowatt-hour charge. They never considered alternatives that would have helped the utilities solve their revenue dilemma while promoting alternative energy sources, which keep money here rather than sending it out of state to pay for fossil fuels.

#000000;">The third commissioner, Eric Callisto, who was appointed by former Gov. Jim Doyle, blasted the rate changes and complained they will fall unjustly on the poor, who use little electricity, and the frugal, who practice conservation and experiment with alternative energy sources. The majority commissioners have essentially taken away any incentive to hold down consumption, he insisted... .

#000000;">[T]he PSC's action flew in the face of warnings from the solar industry that if Wisconsin approved the new rate structures and accompanying fees on solar equipment, it would miss out on creating thousands of solar energy-related jobs.

#000000;">So much for Walker's alleged effort to create new industries and new jobs in Wisconsin. 

#333333; font-family: HelveticaNeue-Light, 'Helvetica Neue Light', 'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, 'Lucida Grande', sans-serif;">RENEW Wisconsin, an environmental group that is among those vaguely lambasted by Republicans as somehow radically leftist, complained about the PSC's move in words that, ironically, might well be cheered by the Florida tea party group:

#333333;">“#333333; font-family: Cambria, serif;">Though a complicated and highly technical policy, net metering is the principal driver for customer installations of solar.  Net metering for solar is like rollover minutes for your cellphone, and details like calculating the rollover annually versus monthly really matter,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin. “It’s clearly in Wisconsin’s interest to establish a policy environment for solar energy that is predictable, easy to understand, and uniformly applied from one utility to the next,” Huebner said.

#333333; font-family: Cambria, serif; font-size: small;">Why do I paint Walker as instrumental in giving the utilities exactly what they wanted? The following sequence of events well suggests Walker's hand was involved in directing the PSC to serve the interests of those big, stockholder-owned utilities at cost to home rate-payers: “At the initial open meeting on November 6, Commissioner Montgomery expressed support for those principles,” Huebner noted. But Montgomery unexpectedly reversed his earlier view when voting on the matter one week later.  Genuflect, genuflect! Montgomery to the governor's office, the governor in turn to the power companies and the Koch brothers.

And it's not just the tea party that's demonstrating Walker is already behind the times. The #2a2a2a;">Washington Post, again:

#2a2a2a;">Costs in the solar industry have been falling steadily, and utilities are rightly worried about disruption. People who buy solar panels are buying less electricity from utilities, which in turn must maintain power lines and operate plants with less money. Eventually, they might have to raise rates, making solar power even more attractive. This possibility led ;">the hemp-wearing hippies working at Barclays#2a2a2a;"> [to downgrade] the debt of the U.S. power sector last year. (In defense of the utilities, opposition to solar power isn't just about profits. Until solar power can be cheaply stored and delivered on demand, consumers will expect utilities to be ready to provide electricity at night and on cloudy days.)

#2a2a2a;">Reporter Penn spoke with ;">Debbie Dooley#2a2a2a;">, a tea party advocate who has also been organizing for solar power in Georgia. She told him that #2a2a2a;">the reason solar efforts have been successful in some Republican-dominated states is that it is a way to open up the free market and give citizensa choice, which she called a core conservative principle.

Walker Republicans clearly are chewing on fruit with a different core.

#2a2a2a;">The good news inside this terrible news for Wisconsin is that it once again points out the possibilities for progressives to find common ground with tea party activists and forge ad hoc coalitions. That may seem distasteful as well as difficult, but it's one obvious way to break the back of the Republican Party's statist inclinations.

#2a2a2a;">You may yet persist in questioning why we should regardl Walker and Wisconsin's GOP brain-trust as statist. In which case, consider the following passage from a Wikipedia article on the varying flavors of statism. It should remind you of a certain reckless governor of a midwestern state, one that could use more jobs, cheaper energy and a more inclusive and open public sector:

#2a2a2a;">Some analyses use a dichotomy between state and market, viewing the state as a homogeneous institution capable of using political power to force policy on the market which is the sum of peaceful human action. Such an analysis depends on an elitist theory of power rather than a pluralist theory of power; that power is exercised by individuals and competing organisations within society.

#2a2a2a;">Authoritarianism, on the other hand, views a strong, authoritative state as required to legislate or enforce morality and cultural practices.The ideology of statism espoused by fascism holds that sovereignty is not vested in the people but in the nation state, and that all individuals and associations exist only to enhance the power, prestige and well-being of the state. It repudiates individualism and the family and exalts the nation as an organic body headed by the Supreme Leader and nurtured by unity, force, and discipline. Fascism and some forms of corporatism extol the moral position that the corporate group, usually the state, is greater than the sum of its parts and that individuals have a moral obligation to serve the state.

#2a2a2a;">Elitest or authoritarian? You be the judge. In either case, Walker Republicanism arguably is not about serving the individual. It is, rather a disguised strategy to serve the state. Not the State of Wisconsin, or the state as represented by governments local, state and federal. But, rather, the corporate state, one that is regarded as always right and is always to be trusted, precisely because it has enormous influence and lots of cash.

#2a2a2a; font-family: HelveticaNeue-Light, 'Helvetica Neue Light', 'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, 'Lucida Grande', sans-serif;">While Republicans persistently campaign against liberals for their alleged miscreance in fostering more dependence on government, those same Republicans are quietly turning the corporate state into government, a regime by proxy, one that's all about paying individual Americans no attention except for what they can produce, and at what cost. By and large, it's evident the GOP agrees with the broad segment of corporate America that thinks you and your labors cost them too much.

#2a2a2a;">Once having won out, this statist approach will only lead to a static society, where nothing much changes in the way of social progress or economic gain. Winners will remain winners, only more so. Losers will be losers, only more so. Winning will be its own reward. Losing will be its own punishment. If you are among those desperately trying to get ahead, go right to the back of the lengthening line.

#2a2a2a;">The old carnies at your typical county fair used to bellow at prospective customers: "A prize every time! In America, everybody wins!" But that hasn't been true for decades, now, if it even ever was. It's a pleasing meme, but reality isn't so nice. 

#2a2a2a;">Today's carny talk is about what's good for business being good for America. So like it or else. And be sure to nod reverently toward guys like Scott Walker, whose idea of a carefully structured society looks mostly like a billionaire boys club.


January 8, 2015 - 12:41pm