Campbell finally named LPSC chairman
Split 3-2 vote opens partisan division on state's utility regulating Commission

• BATON ROUGE(CNS)

Foster Campbell of Elm Grove, long a burr under the saddle of the political establishment, was elected chairman of the Louisiana Public Service Commission on Thursday, Jan. 26. by a 3-2 vote.

The two dissenting votes were cast by Republican commission members Clyde Holloway of Forest Hill and Eric Skrmetta of Metairie.

Commission Chairman Jimmy Field of Baton Rouge, also a Republican, made the motion to choose Campbell as chairman and himself as vice-chairman but both Holloway and Skrmetta offered substitute motions to re-elect Field as chairman with Holloway nominating Campbell as vice-chairman and Skrmetta nominating Holloway as vice-chairman.

Skrmetta's motion failed for lack of a second. Skrmetta, a member of the Republican State Central Committee, then seconded Holloway's motion but it failed by a vote of 3-2 and Field's original motion was then considered and passed by a 3-2 vote.

The chairmanship of the commission normally rotates from member to member but Campbell has been passed over the past eight years, a fact Field pointed out in his nomination of Campbell. Voting with ield and Campbell was Lambert Boissiere, a New Orleans Democrat.

Campbell, who was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for governor in 2007, was almost certainly not the first choice of Gov. Bobby Jindal as evidenced by objections to his selection voiced by both Holloway and Skrmetta.

Besides having run against Jindal four years ago, Campbell irked the administration when in November he summoned Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater and Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell before the PSC to explain under oath how the Jindal administration managed to fumble away an $80 million federal grant to expand broadband Internet unto unserved rural areas of the state.

Campbell, labeled alternately as a populist or a maverick, often clashes with utility company representatives at commission meetings. He said his tough questions and combativeness may have contributed to fellow members' reluctance to choose him as their chairman. "I make people uncomfortable," he said.

He said one of the items at the top of his agenda for the coming year is "a long, hard look at the rate of return for electric power companies. The cost of money has never been lower than it is today and the cost of natural gas has dropped substantially. The power companies like Entergy and SWEPCO are getting about 10.5% return on their investments right now. There's not a 10.5% return for anyone else anywhere out there-and there's no risk on their investment; they're a monopoly."

Campbell said his "first blush" read is that power companies are making too much money at the present time and that they should be passing their savings on to the consumers. "I don't work for the power companies," he said. "I work for the people of Louisiana."

Asked if he felt he may have embarrassed the Jindal administration by calling Rainwater before the PSC over the loss of the $80 million grant, Campbell said, "He should be embarrassed. Some of the poorest people in the nation live along the Mississippi Delta that could have been benefitted economically from broadband internet but Mr. Jindal said he didn't want the heavy hand of the federal government involved. Well, Mr. Jindal certainly didn't mind using federal money when it benefitted him. He just had a couple of wealthy supporters who, for whatever reason, didn't want the project."

Campbell said he got "absolutely no satisfaction" from the answers provided by Rainwater in his appearance before the PSC. "He was under oath, so I won't say he was lying, but he came about as close to it as you can come," he said.

"Look at where Jindal chooses to announce his education reform and state employee pension reform," he continued. "If he'd announced his pension reform before state employees, he'd have been booed out of the room. Instead, he does his grandstanding in front of LABI (Louisiana Association of Business and Industry) for education reform and before the Baton Rouge Rotary for state pension reform. That shows you right there that he has absolutely no compassion for state employees, teachers, or those on fixed incomes. I guess someone must've broken his pencils in schools and he had to go running to the teacher. He's still doing that."

Skrmetta, asked the reasons for his opposition to Campbell's assuming the chairmanship, would only say that he was "opposed."

Almost immediately after his election, Campbell and Skrmetta got into an argument over new standards for taxi cabs and hired limousines. Their bickering became so intense at one point that Field had to intervene and ask the two to "settle down and have a civil conversation."

The PSC oversees costs charged by utility, trucking and telephone companies. As chairman, he will preside over the commission's monthly meetings and serve as the commission's spokesperson.

Campbell will officially take the chairman's gavel at the PSC's next meeting on Feb. 15 at Louisiana College in Pineville.

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