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Illinois Governor Stacks Deck for Telecommunications Giant PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Tuesday, 04 March 2003 18:00
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Pat Quinn hits the mute button – a device nobody ever thought he possessed. Lieutenant Governor Quinn, a self-styled consumer activist, has for well over 20 years raged against the political clout wielded by the company formerly known as Ameritech, then Ameritech/SBC, and now just plain ol’ SBC. But while SBC has been making a major power play to seize control of the Illinois Commerce Commission, Quinn has chosen to remain silent.

After Governor Rod Blagojevich appointed the almost total unknown Lula Ford to the ICC a month ago, Quinn told the Chicago Sun-Times that he hoped he would have input on the next appointment. But when the governor appointed SBC sympathizer Ed Hurley as the new ICC chairperson last week, Quinn was left out of the loop.

When given a chance to criticize the appointment of what a spokesman for the Citizens Utility Board (which, ironically, Quinn created) has called an “anti-consumer” chairperson, Quinn took a pass. “He said it was sort of beyond his pay grade,” explained Quinn spokesperson Claude Walker.

Walker, a longtime CUB member, was finally forced to sort-of admit that maybe if he had heard another lieutenant governor make such a lame excuse he would probably pounce on the apparent political cowardice. But Walker diligently stuck to the script during an interview, claiming that Quinn could still affect change at the ICC by other means.

Quinn’s refusal to even mildly criticize Governor Blagojevich over the appointments had insiders smirking all week. The formerly fearless and aggressively vocal “people’s advocate” has apparently now completed his transformation from radical consumer champion into a loyal political foot soldier – a conversion thought almost impossible before this week.

Quinn’s spokesperson also refused comment on Commissioner Lula Ford’s first telecommunications-related vote two weeks ago. Ford voted with Commissioner Hurley to reconsider a vote taken on a rule passed last December that imposed stringent service requirements on SBC. Ford said from the bench that she felt the commission’s rules should be relaxed for SBC.

And Walker took a pass on commenting about the appointment to the ICC of a blatantly pro-SBC general counsel.

So, why is Blagojevich apparently packing the ICC with SBC’s friends?

Helping SBC has serious political benefits for the governor – mainly because SBC’s president, Bill Daley, is the brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Blagojevich has at times seemed to go out of his way to alienate the Springfield political establishment, but he has been extremely careful to keep the mayor happy – doing things like appointing two of hizzoner’s people to hugely important cabinet positions.

The mayor won 78 percent of the vote in last week’s primary, he has an awe-inspiring political organization, but his main loyalty is to his family. Bill Daley is the first member of the Daley clan to lead a national corporation, so the mayor naturally wants him to succeed. And Bill’s marching orders from SBC’s board chairperson are simple: Get everything you can out of Illinois regulators.

The governor has quickly surrounded himself with several people who have ties to the company run by the mayor’s brother. Blago’s chief legal counsel, Susan Lichtenstein, was SBC/Ameritech’s chief legal counsel and vice president not long ago. Blago’s 2002 political director, John Wyma, lobbies for SBC in Washington, D.C., and plans to begin lobbying in Springfield. Tony Rezko raised a reported $500,000 for the governor’s campaign last year, is a member of Blagojevich’s inner circle, and has appointed three important agency directors. Rezko also pops up on a list of lobbyists for a firm that does government relations for SBC. The governor’s most trusted media adviser, David Wilhelm, has plugged some top people into the new administration and once represented SBC.

What could all this mean for consumers? SBC/Ameritech has long claimed that the best way to spur competition is to allow it to increase its retail rates to consumers. I am not making this up. The company reasons that higher rates could assure its competitors of profitability and stability.

The ICC can also help SBC kill off much of its competition in the high-speed Internet access, or “broadband,” market by allowing the company to shut off its competitors’ access to its wire network.

The commission can allow SBC to jump into the long-distance business without forcing it to open itself up to real competition in the local calling market. And there’s a kabillion other little things the commission can do to help SBC at the expense of consumers.

Meanwhile, Pat Quinn, former consumer activist, sits on the sidelines.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).
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