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Prop 80 and T.U.R.N.'s "Enron" Cliche
Who is behind the cliche "No More Enrons?"

[Wayne Lusvardi] 10/20/05

Proponents and opponents of California Proposition 80 to re-regulate electricity on the November special election ballot both contend that voting YES or NO respectively would bring about lower electric rates. The state Legislative Analyst has concluded that there is no way of knowing which position or system might bring about lower electric rates. Pro Prop 80 advocates are using the overworked cliches “No More Enrons” and “No More Power Crises” to galvanize public opinion in favor of Prop 80.

There certainly have been a number of recent mysterious electricity blackouts all having to do with the Los Angeles DWP and the Edison Company to give some seeming credence to the blackout crises. But beyond whether or not these blackouts are contrived to soften up voters to Prop 80, are these slogans helpful or are they just “clichés for dummies?”

Guest Contributor
Wayne Lusvardi

Wayne Lusvardi worked for 20 years for the Metro Water District of So. Cal. and lives in Pasadena. The views expressed are his own. . Wayne receives e-mail at

The hackneyed slogan “No More Enrons” used by the Pro Prop 80 advocacy groups refers to the California Electricity Crisis of 2001 where it was widely believed that Enron’s gaming of the energy pricing structure during deregulation caused massive rolling blackouts and huge spikes in electricity prices throughout the state. This explanation of what happened during the California energy crisis was so widespread that it was made into a movie and two popular books.

There is only one problem with this explanation – it is mostly, although not entirely, wrong. (see: Enron did not principally cause the California electricity crisis of 2001; government was mostly complicit in the crisis.

Which leads us to the question – who propagated such disinformation to the media about Enron’s role in the California energy crisis of 2001 and what would motivate them to do so?

Among the “usual suspects” in the disinformation surrounding the 2001 California energy crisis is The Utility Reform Network (TURN). TURN is a San Francisco-based energy consumer advocacy organization which is subsidized to the tune of $1.5 million a year by what is called “intervenor compensation” mandated by the CPUC by siphoning monies from private electric utilities; which means from your utility bill.

Sociologists would say the “manifest function” of TURN is political and legal advocacy on behalf of California’s electricity consumers. But its more important “latent function” is to serve as an information gate keeper to the major newspaper and television media for such complicated issues as electricity deregulation and understanding such highly technical issues as the state energy grid.

The average newspaper or TV reporter probably doesn’t know the difference between a kilowatt and a megawatt, let alone the Byzantine regulatory system of electricity in California. Instead they often must rely on the consumer advocacy organizations to help them get the story straight because they cannot always consider the corporate or governmental version of events as reflecting a disinterested point of view.

One of the functions of such advocacy organizations as TURN is thus to fill the void created by the absence of knowledge by journalists and pundits by churning out clichés. Faced with bewildering facts, the function of mass media is to produce some simplistic catch phrases or clichés that will sell newspapers or TV watching.

Consider the cliché “blondes have more fun.” Anyone who has been to Iceland or Ipanema Beach will find the assertion that “blondes have more fun” as blatantly absurd. Likewise, anyone who studies the California energy crisis of 2001 in depth would find the cliché that “Enron Caused the Energy Crisis by Gaming the System” as equally absurd. The demonizing and scapegoating of private corporations and capitalism is frequently a successful method used by journalists but hardly suffices for educating the public about Prop 80. It is what is called a “red herring” which distracts our attention from the real issues.

Which raises the question why would TURN and other advocacy organizations propagate such misinformation if they were truly a public interest organization?

To answer this question we might “turn” to the website for TURN and review the biographies of its staff ( While the legal pedigrees of its staff are beyond question, the backgrounds of most of its staff members are in union and labor advocacy, employment law, environmental advocacy and litigation, antitrust litigation, union organizing, immigrant legal assistance programs, peace activism, and so on. This hardly leads us to believe that TURN is an advocate for California electricity consumers over labor unions, or trial lawyers, or environmentalists opposed to coastal oil platform leases or LNG terminals, or peace activists who don’t care about hostage prices set by oil cartels which hurt poor Americans most, or new immigrants who increase demands on the state energy grid.

So in judging whether to vote YES or NO on Prop 80, perhaps we should use a counter cliché: “consider the source” (see list of pro and con groups below).

The Utility Consumer Action Network (TURN)
The Consumer Federation of California
The California Public Interest Research Group (liberal think tank)
Retired managers of Southern California Edison Company
Government employee unions (AFSCME)
Alliance for a Better California – Educators, firefighters, school employees, health care givers, and labor organizations
California Teacher’s Association, PACE of California School Employees Association
California State Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees PAC
SEIU Local 1000 – State Employees Association Union PAC
IBEW – International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Los Angeles Chapter of Peace and Freedom Party

The California Public Utilities Commission (unanimous vote against)
The California Chamber of Commerce
Independent Power Companies including solar and geothermal companies
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Senator Tom McClintock
Sacramento Bee
The San Francisco Chronicle
The Orange County Register
Riverside Press-Enterprise
Fresno Bee
Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association
San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association
Local Liberty Blog, Claremont Institute CRO

copyright 2005 Wayne Lusvardi




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