It could also cost the only incumbent running for re-election this fall. Barry Wong voted to enact the renewable standards. Now he'll have to defend that vote in a Republican primary chock-full of candidates, some of them hostile to the very idea of global warming.
The libertarian Goldwater Institute has filed a lawsuit questioning whether the commission has the right to set the standards. And some of the Republican candidates have vowed to repeal them — even as some of the Democratic candidates call them "baby steps" and threaten to take the requirement further.
This election matters.
And that's why I find this whole Samuel George/Sam Vagenas thing so unsettling.
We're going to be blitzed with advertising asking us to support Samuel George and his slate of Democratic candidates.
But as the slate has already shown, the innocuous "Samuel George" name may well be a Trojan horse for Vagenas-style electioneering. Surely, the Democrats can do better than that.
Not to mention this: Doing something isn't always good enough. You have to do it smartly.
Think about the horrible mess that ensued when Jeff Groscost tried to do something to encourage hybrid vehicles. Groscost meant well, but he ended up costing the state $100 million — and subsidizing gas-guzzling trucks.
You don't think the renewable energy market has the same pitfalls? Consider this: Sam Vagenas/George's biggest patron, John Sperling, is currently pushing a renewable-energy initiative in California that environmentalists there actually oppose. According to the Los Angeles Times, they say the initiative is riddled with loopholes. The California Solar Energies Commission claims the Sperling plan could "slam the brakes on renewable energy development in the state."
There is a right way to do something. There is also, clearly, a wrong way.
I contacted Sam Vagenas/Samuel George to talk about all this. He's ignored me.
It's not like I haven't been pushy. First, I sent a message to his official campaign e-mail address. I got an auto-reply message saying he was out of town — which, stupidly, I actually believed. I even pushed this story back for a week to accommodate his supposed schedule.
Meanwhile, Samuel George has been popping up at events all over town. I keep getting phone calls: "Dude, your boy Vagenas showed up at the debate today." Or, "Aren't you looking for Sam Vagenas? He was at this union event last night."
And politicians wonder why we reporters get so bitchy.
I called the number listed on George's campaign finance report. It's got no voice mail. So I tried his other e-mail address, the one for the consulting company he ostensibly owns. It's been shut down. I even told one of the members of his team, Sandra Kennedy, that I was looking for him. She promised to forward the message.
I finally started to get the picture: He doesn't want to talk to New Times. Fine.
But at some point, he's going to have to explain himself to the voters. And I don't think they're going to like this crap any more than I do.
I watched a recent debate featuring the four Democratic candidates — George's "solar team" and Kara Kelty. And I was struck, throughout the hour-long event, by just how good Kelty is on the issues.
She would be the Republicans' worst nightmare: an attractive, articulate woman who doesn't pander and doesn't condescend. She gets the economic issues. She gets the need for renewable energy, but she explains it in a way even a conservative could get behind. And she's smart.
I'm such a know-it-all that I'm never impressed when I watch this kind of stuff. But when she started talking about net-metering, I literally started taking notes.
Meanwhile, Sandra Kennedy looks like a deer caught in the headlights. (One sample reply, when asked about excessive train traffic in some parts of the state: "Railroads is a — and I think about the new high speed — thank you, high-speed railroads — transportation should be non-coal-electrified." Huh?)
And as for the former Sam Vagenas, he bears an unpleasant resemblance to David Guest, that creepy-looking guy who used to be married to Liza Minnelli. He literally looks as if his face is melting. And when he repeats "energy independence" and "solar" over and over like some pollster has determined the magic words to sell his candidacy, it's downright uncomfortable.
He's the political genius; not me. But if the Democrats are really serious about renewable energy, and if climate change really is the big issue this year, you'd think they could do better than a woman who doesn't even seem to understand the issues and a plastic-looking guy with a fake name.
Of course, they may do better. We'll see in September.