[StBernard] 4 vie in heated battle for open PSC seat

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Tue Sep 23 21:45:46 EDT 2008

Boy-oh-boy....old politicians are harder to get rid of than vampires! I
guess both are:
a. afraid of the daylight
b. have to stake them to really get rid of 'em!

Schwegmann and Odinet.

Schwegmann: How to lose a family grocery dynasty in 3 easy steps.

Odinet: Old, term-limited House members don't go away; they find a
new state job
to run for.

The other 2 I don't know anything about. Anybody else know about them?



4 vie in heated battle for open PSC seat
by Robert Travis Scott, The Times-Picayune
Monday September 22, 2008, 9:39
BATON ROUGE -- A surprise open seat on the Oct. 4 primary ballot for
Service Commission has put four candidates in a heated battle to
represent a
New Orleans area district on some of the major energy regulation
facing Louisiana.

The commission, which once was a stepping stone in the political
career of
Gov. Huey Long, has evolved into a critical agency coping with
utility bills, the quest for alternative energy sources and
power outages.

Since 1997, north shore lawyer Jay Blossman has held the 1st
District seat,
which represents a 12-parish area including St. Tammany, St. Bernard
most of Jefferson and the River parishes, as well as a piece of the
Orleans lakeshore. After qualifying in July to run for a third term,
Blossman unexpectedly dropped out of the race when the sign-up
period was

While that move may have shut out some potential
candidates who didn't want
to run against Blossman's well-financed re-election machine, the
have two former elected officials and two other previous political
candidates seeking their first election victories.

John Schwegmann, the former grocery chain owner who held the
commission seat
for 15 years, is a non-party candidate back for another try. Ken
Odinet, a
former 20-year member of the state House of Representatives,
switched in
July from Democrat to Republican, generally a more favorable party
for the

Eric Skrmetta, a Republican lawyer, has fallen short in previous
attempts to
win a state House seat. Bruce Kincade, a Metairie lawyer, is a
candidate who has run unsuccessfully in contests for parish
president and

Each candidate has characterized Blossman as too cozy with the
utility companies he regulates. A legislative auditor's report in
documented a freewheeling standard for commissioners and agency
staff, many
of whom routinely accepted dinners, golf games and other perks from

Blossman frequented utility companies' Superdome suites and a power
picked up Blossman's tab at a Santa Fe spa. Earlier this year,
wrote a letter on commission stationery to regulated motor carriers
them to meet with a young friend who was a salesman for a satellite
system. A state inspector general investigation concluded that the
was a possible violation of state ethics laws.

In reaction to these events, all the 1st District candidates have
themselves as customer advocates who will shun the influence of
while giving the companies a fair hearing. But there are key

Skrmetta sees ethical lapses in an otherwise effective commissioner,
Schwegmann and Odinet say
Blossman is unfit for office. Skrmetta has
welcomed an endorsement from Blossman, who is helping with
introductions and
campaign fundraising. Also, Skrmetta is taking campaign
contributions from
power and phone companies while the others have pledged not to
accept money
from regulated utilities.

All the candidates want to address that portion of the power bill
charges a substantial fee, or fuel adjustment, for increased costs
natural gas, a fuel used in abundance by Entergy for generating

Here is a look at each candidate:

Bruce Kincade

Kincade, 56, is a lawyer with a specialty in taxes who has run
unsuccessfully for Jefferson Parish president and assessor.

He had given his campaign $10,000 as of his most recent disclosure

Kincade said he was motivated to run partly because of the
electricity bill for his home, especially the fuel adjustment
he calls "obnoxious."

Kincade said consumers are being taken advantage of by utilities and
is not enough equilibrium in the financial risks taken by
versus ratepayers.

Utilities should get at least 20 percent of their energy from
resources, he said. More than any other candidate, Kincade
increased solar power as the answer to higher energy bills.

Kincade said that as a commissioner he would be checking to see "if
any reality" to the utility calculations for consumer bills, and
suasion" could also be used to convince the companies to ease rates.

Ken Odinet Sr.

Odinet, 77, is a lifelong advocate of his home St. Bernard Parish.
engineering career has provided experiences with offshore drilling,
construction and pipeline work, and he continues to run his own

During his terms in the
state Legislature from 1988 to 2008, he served on
the Ways & Means, Natural Resources and Labor committees. He
narrowly lost
bid for a state Senate seat last year.

He has money left from his Senate campaign that he can use in the
PSC race.
His latest disclosure report showed a little more than $22,000.

Odinet said he would address the fuel adjustment problem by pressing
different types of fuel, particularly nuclear, for power generation.
He said
he would consider a way for the state to finance nuclear power
selling the power to the energy companies.

He favors deregulation of the power industry, shifting toward
private power
plants to supply more electricity.

"Let supply and demand take care of things, " Odinet said.
"We're surely not
keeping prices down with the regulation we have now."

Odinet wants the power companies to get insurance to help compensate
storm damage or build up a fund in advance, with the commission
providing oversight of customer charges to help pay for those hedge

John Schwegmann

Schwegmann, 62, comes from a well-known family in the New Orleans
area. His
father, a famous supermarket innovator, held a seat on the Public
Commission. His wife, Melinda, was lieutenant governor from
1992-1996 and a
state representative.

When his father stepped down from the PSC, Schwegmann won the seat
served from 1981 to 1996. He was ousted by Blossman in a tight

He has raised about $25,000.

Schwegmann, who previously ran a banking company, said that once in
he would concentrate on the electric utilities and closely review
financial reports to better judge their rate charges.

"I think I can ask a lot of the needed, probing questions, "

He would explore the possibility of
a partnership between the public and
private sectors to produce natural gas from the state's rich
reserves in a
way that could bring lower prices on utility bills.

Also, while utilities are entitled to collect storm damage repair
costs and
some other types of expenses from power customers, the companies and
shareholders should not be immune from poor business decisions that
burden the ratepayer, he said.

Schwegmann said while in office he fought for extra generating
capacity by
private companies that could be sold into the main power grids,
creating more competition for power supply. He would support an
expansion of
nuclear power generation, but limit the burden on consumers for cost
overruns, which in the past cost ratepayers billions of dollars.

Eric Skrmetta

Skrmetta, 49, is a lawyer who owns a seafood-processing equipment
and has been involved in numerous civic
groups. He has served as a traffic
judge in Jefferson Parish and a mediator for insurance claims
after Hurricane Katrina. In a business deal in the 1990s, he turned
a $1,000
investment into a $5.6 million buyout of his interest in the Harvey
riverboat casino.

He was a member of the Causeway Commission and ran twice in crowded
for a state House seat.

Skrmetta said he will put more than $100,000 of his own money into
campaign while also soliciting money from contributors, including
companies. His competitors' refusal to accept utility money is a
sign that
they are unfairly prejudiced toward them, he said.

"They have animosity toward one side in the equation, " Skrmetta

To deal with spikes in fuel adjustments, Skrmetta would try to
ensure that
the special gas charges on bills come down as fast as they go up to
accurately match commodity market
swings. For the long term, the answer lies
in greater diversification of the types of power plants, with an
emphasis on
more nuclear power, petroleum-coke and biomass in the future, he
said. More
solar power would be a partial solution.

Diversified energy sources could be made a requirement for
utilities, he
said. When new power plants are delayed or running over planned
costs, the
extra financial burden should be shared by the companies, he said.

"We don't want a never-ending story of why it's not completed,
" Skrmetta
said, noting his campaign slogan: "Power should rest with our
utility companies."

The commission has five elected representatives serving staggered
terms. The agency regulates utilities, some phone services and a
variety of
intrastate transport companies, including movers, tour buses and

In addition to St. Tammany, St. Bernard and
much of the east bank of
Jefferson Parish, the 1st District covers Plaquemines, Tangipahoa,
Washington and St. Helena parishes and parts of Ascension,
Orleans, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes.

. . . . . . .

Robert Travis Scott can be reached at rscott at timespicayune.com or

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