Alabama Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn, who made waves in the state by having the gall to try to do his job by calling for hearings on utility rates, was routed by challenger Chris “Chip” Beeker Jr. in the July 15 Republican primary runoff election.
Beeker took 59 percent of the vote, 119,041 votes, over Dunn’s 41 percent, or 81,563 votes, according to unofficial results.
The runoff followed the June 3 Republican primary for Place 2 on the Alabama PSC, in which Beeker also bested Dunn, taking 39 percent to the incumbent’s 33 percent, with two other challengers picking up the remainder.
With no general election opponents standing in the November general election, the primary determined who gets the seat on the three-member Alabama Public Service Commission.
In a statement posted on his campaign website, Beeker thanked supporters, saying, “For the next four years, I promise to protect consumers, protect industry, and to fight overreach of the Obama administration.”
Expanding further in a statement to the media, Beeker said: “I look forward to working with the other Republican members of the PSC as we keep utility rates affordable for the consumers we serve, transform the commission into an economic development tool, and combat the job-killing, anti-coal policies of Barack Obama and his liberal extremist cronies at the EPA. Obama has declared a three front war against Alabama jobs, Alabama families, and Alabama coal, so this is no time for shrinking violets. I’ll use my seat on the PSC to join the fight and take the battle right back at him.”
The statement exemplified the tone of the race’s crazy, anti-Washington rhetoric, with Beeker pledging to fight against Obama’s so-called “war on coal.”
On the “Issues” page of his campaign website, Beeker, who operates a catfish farm, blames EPA “radical bureaucrats” for the closure of coal-fired plants in neighboring Georgia, and “environmental extremists” for propagating the “myth” of climate change: “I believe that no matter what you call it, a myth is still a myth, and the so-called ‘climate change crisis’ is about as real as unicorns and little green men from Mars,” Beeker said, appealing to voters who rely on reporting from Fox News and talk radio rather than the reality-based reporting of every other news organization in the land, which have been reporting since the 1990s that climate change due to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels is not only real. The effects are happening now.
Despite being the challenger in the race, Beeker took on the mantle of the establishment candidate, gathering the endorsements of industry groups including the Alabama Coal Association, as well as industry groups representing manufacturing, agriculture and construction. Beeker also garnered the support of conservative luminaries including singer Pat Boone, now a spokesman for the 60 Plus Association, a conservative seniors group, and the candidate enjoyed a fundraiser hosted by former Mississippi governor and former Southern Company lobbyist Haley Barbour.
It has been reported that Beeker’s campaign received $50,000 in contributions from Drummond Co. Inc., $20,000 from drilling company R.E.M. Directional and $38,000 from ENPAC, a political action committee connected to the Alabama Coal Association.
For Dunn, the loss caps a tumultuous term in which he repeatedly found himself at odds with his own party as well as his fellow Republican commissioners on everything from his push for formal rate reviews of Alabama’s utilities in January 2013 to his support of legislation that would have prohibited campaign contributions to commissioners by energy interests.
In the case of Alabama Power Company, the hearings held in summer 2013 eventually led to a vote by the PSC to alter how rates for the utility were calculated, a change Dunn dismissed as insufficient. On conservative blogs in the state, Dunn was regularly portrayed falsely as being aligned with environmentalists and opposed to the coal industry and job growth.
Following the initial primary election in June, Dunn got into a war of words with Beeker in which he accused his challenger of cutting a deal with Alabama Power to use newly proposed federal carbon limits as justification to raise rates for the utility.
Reached one day after his defeat, Dunn said he was not surprised he lost the race, and placed blame for the result squarely on Alabama Power, which he said has been focused on ousting him from his seat since he began calling for formal cases examining utilities’ rate structures.
“It was just obvious that [Alabama Power was] determined to get me out of office and that was it,” Dunn said. “Ever since the beginning, when I asked for a formal hearing, that’s when it all started and they were determined to destroy me politically then.”
Dunn accused Alabama Power of funneling money to third-party political groups that worked to smear him.
“They’ve got their ways of channeling and coming after you, going through channels to keep their hands clean from a distance,” Dunn said. “I was getting threats from people that were associated with Alabama Power the whole time, but they’re smart enough not to let the money trail point to them.”
Responding to Dunn’s accusations, Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said, “We do not get involved in PSC races, and we did not do so here.”
But Dunn does not see himself as necessarily finished with the PSC when his current term expires, noting that he would consider running for commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh’s seat, which comes up for election in 2016.
“I won’t rule anything out right now,” he said. “The president of the commission comes up in two years. We’ll see how everything plays out.”
© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.