Lawmaker hits lack of action on electricity woes

Arizona lawmakers have done nothing to deal with the possible spreading of an electricity shortage from California, a freshman state lawmaker who represents Mohave County said Friday evening.

Lawmakers need to get involved because their constituents expect them to do so, said Rep.

Tom O'Halleran, R-Oak Creek.

O'Halleran and three other lawmakers spoke at a two-hour town hall meeting that drew 30 people – mostly public officials – to Mohave Community College in Butler.

Joining him at the forum, which took place a day after the Legislature concluded its session, were Reps.

Jim Sedillo, D-Flagstaff, and Albert Tom, D-Chambers, and Sen.

John Verkamp, R-Flagstaff.

O'Halleran brought up his concerns about the power issue in response to a question from Kingman Democratic activist Richard Glancy, who worked for a number of years at the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin.

"We don't have enough capacity in our transmission lines," O'Halleran said.

The state also needs to double the capacity of natural gas lines to meet future demands.

"I am very disappointed in what we have done," he said.

"I think we have been weighing in too much with the utility industry."

He recommended long-range planning, acknowledging that 20 natural gas-fired plants are in the works in Arizona.

He said he plans to draw more attention to the issue by scheduling public forums in Kingman, and in the Colorado River and Prescott areas this summer.

O'Halleran's colleague in District 2 in the House, Sedillo, said he is getting an education about the energy situation.

"Obviously, you have noticed that we are not experts in everything," Sedillo told the gathering.

"Six months ago, if you asked me what a (electric) grid system is, I would have said, 'Give me a break."

While sounding dismal on the electricity issue, the lawmakers cited numerous accomplishments and praised each other for a spirit of cooperation – something they said was previously rare in the highly partisan Legislature.

"Of the nine years I have been there, this has been the best session," said Verkamp, who previously held one of the District 2 House seats.

He hinted that the even split of Democrats and Republicans in the 30-member Senate may have something to do with the new bipartisanship.

"It was very difficult to build coalitions," Verkamp said.

"This is the first time this has happened.

… This is the first year that the Democrats had a major role in the budget."

Verkamp, who ran for the Senate in 2000 because he faced term limits in the House, cited progress on funding for the mentally ill and helping to expand health insurance in rural areas.

He referred to the collapse in late 1999 of Premier Healthcare of Arizona, which prompted thousands of seniors in rural Arizona to return to Medicare's fee-for-service plan or seek other coverage.

"You have people paying $600 to $700 a month for health insurance, which is more than their house payment," Verkamp said.

Verkamp referred to a bill that passed that created a two-year pilot project in which rural seniors will receive subsidies to help pay for prescriptions.

The project may be extended elsewhere in the state.

The lawmakers also talked about transportation, the proposed redistricting in response to the 2000 federal census, economic development and other issues.

The Kingman Area Democratic and the Kingman Republican Men's clubs sponsored the town hall meeting.

Kingman developer Roger Chantel said afterward that he is glad that he attended the session.

"I thought it was a very productive meeting because average citizens got to find out what went on in Phoenix," he said.