NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON'T
On Monday, Republican Assemblyman Keith Richman, co-author of one of the leading proposals to restructure the process for buying and selling electricity in California in the aftermath of the crisis of 2001, was vice chairman of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee. On Tuesday, he was off the committee entirely.
The move has raised eyebrows in the Capitol, evoking suspicions that it was made to help smooth the way for passage of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez' competing bill, strongly backed by Southern California Edison. Among the main differences: Richman's proposal would pave the way for a return to direct-access purchasing of electrical power, a process through which large industrial users would be freed to break away from Edison and other utilities and contract directly with generators or brokers to purchase their power; Nunez' bill would at the very least forestall the day when direct access, scuttled during the power crisis, would again become an option for large users. Edison, naturally, would like to keep its monopoly on selling electricity to large users.
So, was Richman dumped because he could have become an inconvenient obstruction to the speaker's electricity bill?
Not at all, says Nunez spokesman Gabriel Sanchez. Rather, the move was a routine part of the speaker's systematic goal to reduce the size of many of the Assembly's large and unwieldy committees. Although sources said Richman privately fumed over being removed from the committee, Sanchez said he shouldn't take it personally. Virtually every member had to give up at least one committee assignment, and it was inevitable that someone would feel slighted, Sanchez told me.
"It's like trying to pick ice cream flavors for 80 people," he said. "Someone's sure to be upset if they get vanilla."
Richman did retain his positions on the Health and Insurance committees — logical places for one of the Legislature's two medical doctors to serve.
Still, Richman's removal from Utilities and Commerce does provide grist for those who suspect a conspiracy. He was one of three Republicans removed from the committee. At the same time, two new Republicans were placed on the panel. Subtracting three and adding two does result in a smaller committee, Nunez' stated goal. But why the need to substitute two different members in the process? Here's one possible reason: One of the new Republican members is Russ Bogh of San Bernardino — a former regional manager for Southern California Edison.