“Waist deep in the big muddy and the big fool says to push on” went the lyrics to an old anti-war song. Some members of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative board want to push on with the same futility toward passage of a single-member district voting scheme. They push on no matter the two referenda where the members said no. They push on in spite of the efforts by at least one PEC board member to personally lobby state legislators in the last session for a bill opposed by the Board of Directors (in a 5-2 vote) that would dictate a single-member district mandate via legislative fiat.
They push on in spite of losing those efforts in the legislature–for at least a third time. Rep. Tony Dale’s draconian bills proved to be a bridge to nowhere–not so much as a single hearing was held to consider them. His legislative overreach ran counter, not only to
the expressed will of the members but also to a board resolution passed in early 2015. The resolution directed that PEC “make the Board’s position known to Texas legislators and the Texas Electric Cooperatives (“TEC”) and work with TEC to raise this opposition…to utilize media and other communication means to inform and advise the Cooperative’s Membership about the Board’s adopted position.”
Now, frustrated in their failure, some members of the newly organized board want to move forward at breakneck speed to “redistrict” the cooperative by the first of 2016. Their claim is that they merely want to more evenly distribute the number of people represented in each district, something that seems reasonable enough. Of course it is not for that reason that they want to redistrict PEC. Redistricting must be done in time for the 2016 election. With redistricting under way, sooner or later someone on the board will offer a resolution to change the bylaws in favor of single-member districts. To change the bylaws it will require a super majority–5 out of 7 directors. It is not clear whether the board president and vice president yet have those votes.
___”He who pays the piper plays the tune.”
The election of Paul Graf and Amy Lea S.J. Akers was not by happenstance. Well financed, slickly polished campaign efforts and a conservative political machine on behalf of both resulted in their impressive wins. The forces behind their elections surely await their just desserts. The operators behind their wins lurk in the shadows and are mostly unidentifiable.
But another sugar daddy, equally cloistered in the shadows yet better known to the board, is James Fletcher. Fletcher is a Burnet County power-broker-wanna-be who contributed heavily to PEC Board President and Burnet County Judge James Oakley’s county election campaign. To give you a flavor of Fletcher’s character and what a splenetic partisan he is, consider that he personally threatened the political demise of the recently re-elected Director Cristi Clement at a political gathering in his own home over a year ago. Cornering Clement at a party to which she was invited, Fletcher not only spewed forth his contempt for renewable energy, he went on to accuse Clement of the high crime of being a radical liberal DEMOCRAT promising her that he would soon “get rid of” her. Fletcher also wrote a particularly vitriolic, bully-boy letter to the respected Jo Karr Tedder and Dorothy Taylor, both board members of the Central Texas Water Coalition (CTWC), accusing them of being “radical liberals” and demanding that they resign, telling them that they “will never get behind the doors” of the real power brokers (those crotch-scratching good ole boys who hang with Fletcher) who make Texas water decisions. Fletcher also huffed and puffed to a former local reporter, James Walker, who until recently wrote for The Highlander newspaper. His articles were generally fair and balanced but not biased enough to suit Fletcher’s hidebound point of view.
It is Fletcher who tells President Oakley when to jump…and how high…and all that that implies. This is not to say that James Oakley is guilty of anything untoward. Quite the contrary. Mr. Oakley is doing nothing more than any member of the PEC board will be required to do in the future to get elected and remain in office. Big money and influence have arrived at PEC. Board races are no longer a kitchen-table affair for amateurs. They involve partisan politics, political machines and lots of money. The quaint notion that PEC elections are “non-partisan” is as yesterday as a giftbox of Fuelberg chocolates.
Sadly, this is the new reality at PEC. The Citizens United decision along with conservative strategies that usurp voting methods until the desired outcome is achieved, knows no bounds. Hence, the pressure for a “fix” is on to achieve single member district bylaws.
Fletcher and his ilk are hell-bent on controlling PEC, something that has eluded them until now. While Mr. Fletcher failed in the promise to bag his target trophy, Cristi Clement, he is undoubtedly satisfied with a larger battle won. Mr. Fletcher and others have an agenda and it is to destroy the cooperative model, kill renewable energy and advance “customer choice”. For this they have paid well and they do not care who they step on to get it done.
Ironically, single-member districts have been rendered irrelevant as a means of taking control of PEC. In an at-large election I lost in every single district I ran in, including my own. I did not benefit from the at-large system, even as an incumbent. A year ago, incumbent director Bill Boggs also lost. The at-large system favored by the members has NEVER been an impediment to winning an election. That was always an illusion.
An eternal optimist, I am always hoping to be surprised. Last night I had the strangest dream I’ve never had before. I dreamed that James Oakley, an intelligent politician, saw the wisdom of abandoning another divisive battle over single member district governance in favor of tending to larger more pressing PEC issues. I dreamed that Chris Perry dropped his lawsuit against PEC for the greater good of the members he serves. I dreamed that the newly-elected board members, Graf and Akers chose an independent path and surprised those who expected their fealty. I dreamed that Emily Pataki read the encyclical of Pope Francis on ecology and called for a special day to consider what our humble cooperative can offer to relieve the plight of our planet and the humanity who inhabit it. I dreamed that the entire board acted with courage as though they owed nobody and worked on behalf of the members without a care about being re-elected.
Then I awakened to the ring of my iPhone alarm.