CORPORATION MEN

TO RETAIN HIS SEAT ON THE COMMISSION, CHAIRMAN JENNINGS TAKES HIS GLOVES OFF AND BATTLES TURNBUCHLE TOM

While Freestone complains that he's worked to get high-tech companies such as U.S. Memories to locate in Arizona, only to be thwarted by the commission's "hostility" to business, Jennings says the commission never even got to the negotiating stages with the companies Freestone mentions. "But even though we play a complementary role, economic development's not our main job," Jennings says. "Our main job is to regulate public utilities. I think that the corporation commission has rescued the utility industry from itself."

Previous commissions, Jennings says, were passive, unable to force utilities to become efficient. During the eight years Jennings has served on the corporation commission, APS business customers have had their rates increased by a half-cent per kilowatt hour. In the decade immediately preceding Jennings' tenure, APS rates rose more than 6 cents per kilowatt hour.

But Freestone says the commission hasn't really stabilized rates, it's just pushed them off into the future. He says big rate increases are due.

"I think we can be economic leaders. I think we can put it back in order. I think we can have good, solid reliable rates throughout this state," Freestone says. "It's possible to do both."
Renz Jennings agrees. He says that's exactly what the commission's been doing.
@rule:

@body:In a shadowless, fluorescent-lighted classroom at Scottsdale Community College, Renz Jennings is addressing a group of about 90 students.

This is Bob Winters' first current-affairs class of the term, and he's enlisted Jennings, an old friend, to deliver a partisan lecture on the 1992 presidential race. Winters' class is a demographically diverse group, with the students ranging in age from late teens to early 70s, gray heads nodding along with sun-streaked co-ed manes, with an eager Young Republican positioned in the front row.

Since Jennings is ear-deep in his own campaign, he hasn't prepared anything special. He wends his way through an impressionistic survey of the Bill Clinton candidacy, touching on the Arkansas governor's deficiencies as well as his strengths. He also offers a critique of America in the 1980s.

"In 1988 both George Bush and Michael Dukakis missed it," he says. "The election was neither about ideology nor competence. It was about values. What kind of values we espouse as a nation. And what kind of people we are. And I don't see Bush espousing the values I think he believes."
Bush, Jennings continues, is a patrician who believes in noblesse oblige and the natural virtue of the rentier class. Bush believes that trickle-down economics works, that people who have money are those best equipped to make the country go. But Bush can't say that, Jennings says, because it is unegalitarian and "un-American," so the president eats pork rinds and plays horseshoes to maintain a plebeian front.

A few pencils drop sharply on desks. A few students slump disgusted in their seats. But most of the class seems genuinely interested, even impressed.

"George Bush mocks vision," Jennings says, quoting Clinton. "He calls it 'the vision thing,' like it's a silly thing to be concerned with the long-range consequences of our actions.

"In the 1980s, we were so focused on the short-term profits that were out there to be taken that we ignored the long-term consequences. Are we an ethical people if we leave behind a bunch of stinking Superfund toxic cleanup sites, if we've looted the banks? Ultimately, the Reagan-Bush years were a fundamentally delusionary era--they led us to believe we weren't required to make any sacrifices. It was the age of 'Just Say Yes.'"
Though Jennings isn't overtly campaigning for himself, the implication is clear. He is the corporation commission candidate with vision, the one who understands the delicate equilibrium between need and excess, the candidate who would never mortgage the future for a few short-term jobs. It's also clear that Professor Jennings is a better candidate when he's got time to weave philosophy and economic theory into his stump patter. Many of Winters' pupils came into class informed by the polemics of shock-conservative Rush Limbaugh; now they seem kinder and gentler, temporary liberals. Sometimes Renz Jennings requires a good 45 minutes without interruption to win converts.

Hands go up. Jennings points. An older man near the back of the room unfolds a newspaper clipping. The story refers to Freestone's charge that Jennings delayed U S West Communications' recent implementation of area-wide toll-free calling in the Valley for political advantage. The student's follow-up question is obsequious.

"How can they ever question your integrity, Mr. Jennings?"
The candidate is amused by the tender treatment.
"Well, thank you for that plug," Jennings answers. "But it is quite possible to engineer something to coincide with an election. The fact is that we've been working on this for four or five years, and finally the phone company had to go through with it. Freestone's got it wrong--we didn't drag it out, we had them hurry it up."
Good answer. But Jennings, perhaps forgetting there's a reporter in the room, presses on.

"Of course politicians think about elections," he says. "There's been times I've thought about timing. But I don't weigh every decision against how it's going to play. In this case, I would have been much better served politically had this gone through months ago. Of course, it looks politically motivated."
Jennings pauses, struck by his own candor. It's as if he's crossed some line of psychic demarcation, and he decides it's safer to light out across the frontier than to turn back.

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