Donald V. Watkins
They Tried to Jail George Wallace, Gerald Wallace
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on June 12, 2019
I received a flurry of calls this morning in response to my article yesterday about Alabama Power Company’s shabby treatment of its Black Belt and rural retail customers. This treatment, which centers arounds Alabama Power’s plan to close 40 business offices in Black Belt counties and rural communities in order to reduce operational expenses, is described in detail in my article.
I thought Alabama Power would be appreciative that I brought a very solvable customer service problem to its immediate attention. I was wrong.
Within hours after yesterday’s article was published, Alabama Power’s governmental affairs executives began calling Perry County officials and telling them to ignore the facts presented in my article about the company’s impressive financial condition, even though these facts came directly from the company’s filings with regulatory agencies, Wall Street institutions, and utility industry research organizations. They called me a “blogger,” even though I am a dues paying member of the Society of Professional Journalists and I have an online readership of more than 20,000 people.
Alabama Power reminded these public officials that I was convicted in March on hotly contested federal criminal charges. This news event was reported in a March 9, 2019 article titled, “We Feel Your Love.” I will be sentenced in this case on July 16, 2019, after which I will file an immediate notice of appeal and ask the Court for permission to remain free on bond during my appeal like former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
I have been informed on good authority that Alabama Power Company operatives are looking for ways to get my bond revoked. If Alabama Power is successful in this regard, a revocation of my bond would land me in jail immediately and would prevent me from publishing future investigative articles about the company.
Alabama Power views me as its lone credible media critic in Alabama. The utility giant neutered other media organizations in Alabama years ago through a combination of advertising dollars, financial contributions from its non-profit foundation, event sponsorships, and consulting fees for seminar participants affiliated with media entities. Now, these media outlets only report “Happy News” about Alabama Power and its business operations.
Jailing Critics to Silence their Voices
This is not the first time Alabama Power has tried to jail its critics. The company tried to do the same thing with Governor George Wallace and his brother, Gerald Wallace, in 1972.
Starting in his second term of office in 1971, Wallace took direct aim at Alabama Power and its frequent fights with the Alabama Public Service Commission over rate increases. Wallace hired lawyers to oppose Alabama Power’s exorbitant rate increases, one of which was 18%. Alabama Power thought that jailing Wallace was its best option.
As the 1972 presidential election approached, Alabama Power Company and other power-brokers were able to persuade President Richard Nixon to have George and Gerald Wallace investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice on federal charges that they rigged state bidding procedures, solicited and received illegal campaign contributions, and accepted kickbacks. Nixon went along with the scheme because he thought Wallace’s candidacy as an independent party nominee would take votes away from his re-election campaign. The Internal Revenue Service expanded the criminal investigation to include Wallace advisor Seymore Trammell.
After Governor Wallace announced that he might seek the Democratic Party nomination in 1972, rather than run as a presidential candidate on the American Independent Party ticket (as he did in 1968), the Justice Department dropped its investigation of the Wallaces. However, Seymore Trammell was eventually charged, convicted and jailed.
Based upon Alabama Power’s mistreatment of the company's ratepayers and the nefarious scheme with the Justice Department, Governor Wallace never trusted the company. Wallace fought Alabama Power Company and its requested rate increases for more than a decade in office. He was determined to protect poor people, middle-class consumers, senior citizens on a fixed income, and small business owners from Alabama Power’s outrageous rate increase requests.
For reasons that are hard to understand, Alabama Power Company views any public attention on its monopoly status and its self-determined rate adjustments as an “attack” on the company. As Governor Wallace learned in 1972, no one is allowed to “attack” Alabama Power by standing up for ratepayers, unless he/she is prepared to face harsh adverse consequences.
Our Watchdogs are not Barking
As I pointed out in yesterday’s article, Perry County Commissioner Albert Turner Jr. appears to be the only public official in Alabama who is demanding that Alabama Power treat its "captive" customers in Black Belt counties and rural communities as well as it treats the company's executives and its biggest customers. After all, ratepayers in these communities are paying for a host of executive perks, including (a) extravagant game-day events at college football games in Tuscaloosa and Auburn; (b) corporate jets that fly executives and dignitaries to and from exotic ports of call, (c) event packages to (I) the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, (ii) national championship football games, (iii) “March Madness” basketball games around the nation, (iv) NFL Super Bowls, and (v) ritzy international air shows in Paris and London. The list of Alabama Power's over-the-top corporate perks that are paid for by ratepayers is endless.
The silence of Governor Kay Ivey, the Public Service Commission members, state legislators, county commissioners, and other public officials regarding Alabama Power’s shabby treatment of its customers in the black Belt counties and in rural communities shows the degree of control and dominion Alabama Power exerts over these neutered officeholders. The company's endless supply of campaign cash, its strategic awards of non-profit grants, its facilitation of jobs and contracts for the friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, mistresses, lovers, and relatives of state legislators, and its monetary inducements for mainstream media organizations have drowned out any thoughts of public service that these officials might have been inclined to render on behalf of their constituents.
This silence is one of the reasons why Alabama Power was able to overcharge its customers by $146 million, as of November 2015.
In closing, remember this: The loud silence of public officials who serve in "watchdog" roles is usually the first sign that the general public is in deep trouble. When only one of the several hundred public "watchdogs" in Alabama is barking about Alabama Power’s shabby treatment of its ratepayers in Black Belt counties and rural communities, this means the other “watchdogs” have abandoned the public interest in favor of their undisclosed private interests.
PHOTO: Former Alabama Governor George C. Wallace was the public’s best “watchdog” over Alabama Power Company. Wallace zealously protected poor people, middle-class consumers, senior citizens on a fixed income, and small business owners from Alabama Power’s outrageous rate increase requests.