By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Twinkle Cavanaugh Currently serves as a commissioner on the Public Service Commission of Alabama (PSC). She running for office to become the Commission’s president.
Cavanaugh is a graduate of Auburn University. She and her husband have three children. They are active members of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, and they are involved in numerous community organizations.
APR: Why did you choose to serve on the Commission and what motivated you to run for the office of president?
CAVANAUGH: I think that the American dream should once again be in reach of all Alabamians. Just like my parents and my grandparents wanted for me, I want my children and my future grandchildren to have opportunity right here in Alabama. I don’t want them to have to move away to make their American dream come true. So, we have to do what we can do to create more jobs and better paying jobs for all for Alabamians.
Believe me, I have been a small business owner and I understand that government has never, ever created a job. But what I mean is creating an environment so that real jobs can be created by real entrepreneurs here in Alabama and families can go back to work and have a real hope of opportunity and that is what I will fight for.
APR: I was recently sent a copy of the new ad by your opponent Kathy Peterson. Would you like to talk about the ad? Or do you want to ignore it?
CAVANAUGH: I’ll be glad to, I anticipated that I would get a question every once and a while about it and the way I look at is that right now, in Alabama, our economy is anemic and we don’t have time to waste on silly ads and personal insults. This isn’t about personalities it is about getting Alabama back to work.
We need to get to the business of helping Alabamians that are hurting. We need someone like myself that will go in and fight for the jobs that we need and these ads will not add a single job or put anybody back to work. So I want to keep the focus of this campaign on jobs in Alabama and improving our economy in Alabama because that is what the people of Alabama want to hear about.
APR: You have been at the PSC for a little over a year now, is that right?
CAVANAUGH: Right. Very shortly over a year. I was elected last November 2 and the PSC is unusual in the fact that you usually take office that night at 12:01 a.m. and they hadn’t even gotten the election returns in by 12:01 a.m. for a lot of the races so it was probably 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning when they called my race and I was actually sworn in the next morning. I was elected in the election cycle two years ago but I have been serving for about a year.
APR: So it has been two years since you were elected?
CAVANAUGH: Yes, November of 2010.
APR: In the course of serving, what are some of the things that you have seen that have made you want to take on the higher responsibilities and what are the things that you believe need to be done at the commission that will help folks in Alabama?
CAVANAUGH: I believe that we can use the Public Service Commission as one of the tools in our toolbelt to put Alabamians back to work to make our state open for business by creating a good environment for business.
I think it is time we have a focused objective here at the Commission. As a commission we have the job of putting out a strong economic environment for businesses to look at that want to locate in Alabama. We can’t just sit back and hope for jobs. We have got to take action and, like I said, use every tool in our economic toolbelt.
Under my leadership, I will set the PSC’s premier objective as job creation. We will play an active role in industrial recruitment through the tools that we have here at the Commission. As the president of the Commission I always jokingly say (but it is really not a joke) I will have three top priorities: Jobs, jobs, and jobs.
I love to give the ThyssenKrupp story (building new carbon steel and stainless steel processing facilities in southern Alabama) as an example. ThyssenKrupp decided to locate in Alabama and the very next day, if you will remember, the then-Governor of Louisiana got on national television and said that they couldn’t compete with the energy prices given in Alabama.
That brought thousands of jobs to our First Congressional District down in Mobile, Baldwin, Washington and Escambia, all of those counties got thousands of jobs and that is what we are talking about. What stories will we be able to tell 2 years, 4 years and 10 years down the road because of things we have been able to do?
Keeping our utility rates as low as possible, and reliable as possible is what many companies are looking at when they are deciding to expand or to grow in Alabama.
One of the things that I have done here at the Commission, I have been on the Barack Obama Administration and I call up his liberal cronies in DC that are so out of control. I have been on them the whole time.
As president of the Commission, I will make standing up against the job-killing environmental mandates that they put out in Washington and make them absolute priority because we have got to make sure (as usual) that the folks in Washington aren’t trying to pick on us here in Alabama, drive up our utility rates and basically put us out of business.
Let’s face it, we are feeling a pinch from what is going on in today’s environment, in today’s economy and we don’t need higher utility rates because of extremists in the Barack Obama Administration and that is what they are.
I will continue to send that message, that we have had enough and I will fight for our rights in Alabama to use our natural resource of coal. Coal is one of our greatest natural resources in Alabama. I tell people Barack Obama is not about improving the environment, what he is about is playing radical politics with our ability to produce energy at a low cost right here in Alabama.
It is really just regional economic attacks from Washington on states like Alabama that don’t support his liberal agenda. If they are serious about cleaning up our environment (and listen, I have three children and I want to make sure that they have a clean environment but there is always a trade off) they have got to look at it and say, “How much can families really afford to pay?” Because you have to pay for all of the infrastructure and the changes.
Over the last 25 years, the [environmental] cleanup has been fantastic and it was wanted and it was needed. But you have got to strike a balance. You can’t give three-year mandates from the Obama EPA Administration or the White House and expect the people of Alabama to be able to pay for things in three years. That is too quickly and it’s not responsible.
But if they would give us reasonable timeframes and reachable goals then I think everyone would want to work together and make sure we have the cleanest environment possible. But what they are doing now is a regional attack on us so they will hurt Alabama families and keep them from using our most abundant resource which is coal.
They don’t like to give us credit in Alabama that we use hydroelectricity, we use natural gas and we use some nuclear and those are cleaner fuels than coal but like today on the front page of the ‘Birmingham News’ they talked about the coal ash from the coal. Yes, but you have got to have it. That is a natural byproduct when you use coal.
But look at the environment of where we are today and where we were 25 years ago—our price of energy and the fact that we can still keep our costs down and bring jobs to this state. We have got to strike a balance but we have got to have a fighter in the PSC that will fight for keeping the jobs here in Alabama.
APR: Reagan when he first came into office kind of ignored to some degree some of the environmental issues and then all of a sudden he sort of realized that he really needed to focus on this but he did it in a balanced way and not going to extremes.
I think sometimes we forget that we have to look at the past and the future and take a balanced approach to cleaning up our environment. On that must be weighed against jobs and families and what is best for individuals. We don’t want to leave a mess for our kids to clean up but we also don’t need to destroy the families economic future in the process.
CAVANAUGH: Exactly. A rational approach but like I said, President Obama and his administration they are not for the environment, they are for playing radical Chicago-style politics and that is why we need to send him back to Chicago. I hope we can do that this year. I think he thinks by putting pressure on us he can send the car manufacturing jobs back to the Northeast.
They are not going back to the Northeast, if his administration succeeded in destroying our economic opportunity in Alabama the car manufacturers will send the jobs overseas.
We can’t have that. We have to stop hemorrhaging the jobs that we already have in Alabama and we have got to make it so more businesses want to locate here in Alabama and that our children will have the opportunity to stay here in Alabama and work. And that is what is important.
You asked my why did I choose the PSC and I will tell you. Being a small business owner I understand the importance of lower utility rates, reliable utilities. When you own a restaurant and your power goes out, you are out of business for that day. So, I know that you have to have reliable power.
The PSC is not a glamorous job. Most people aren’t even aware of what the Public Service Commission does, but I have served as chairman of the Republican Party when we had two members of the Public Service Commission elected and they were both Democrats. I thought to myself, the next time there is one up I am running because I know that I can do better for Alabama than the current Commission. So I ran, and I also ran against someone this last time that didn’t show up for work.
That is one thing, in fact on the front page of my website, it says, “Commissioner Cavanaugh calls herself the working commissioner because she comes to work everyday and tries to keep Alabama’s utility rates some of the lowest in the nation. She has a three-pronged approach to regulating utilities. Commissioner Cavanaugh insists on reasonable rates for consumers, reliable utilities for consumers, which facilitates recruiting jobs to our great state.”
And that has been my philosophy while I have been here. You can’t do the job if you are not engaged everyday. And that is what I have done. I have been engaged, I have gone to see our fantastic story of ThyssenKrupp. I have gone down there and toured the facility and watched them make the steel. I wanted to see it. They are a large energy user in the state of Alabama and we regulate that energy and the contracts. I wanted to see for myself ThyssenKrupp,
I wanted to see the coal plants, to see the dams that produce our hydroelectricity, I have toured the nuclear plant.
You know, you have to be an on-the-job commissioner willing to always think outside the box of how you can go to work and fight for Alabama families to have the environment that we need and to have the jobs we need and to put the food on the table for our families.
It’s exciting for me. I am, actually, a science major and a lot of this is very technical. I will tell you that when I got here most of the building consisted of accountants and engineers and you work with a lot of different companies that are very technical so there are a lot of technical things and it takes a while to get up to speed if you truly want to be able to be engaged in the job and so that is what I have done.
APR: Some have mistakenly called you a career politician but this is your first elected government position.
CAVANAUGH: I am no career politician I have been working in the trenches for a long time and I have worked on conservative causes like lower taxes and less government and making sure that we keep Alabamians working but I have only been in office for one year. It has been an exciting year.
It has been a time when I have been able to take on the EPA. I personally took them on in a meeting in Washington where I stood up in a crowded ballroom of over 1,000 people and said, “With all due respect to the people who President Obama appointed, they have got the wrong message and they are hurting Alabama families.” And I am going to stand up and let them know that we are not going to put up with it.
I think in the beginning the other commissioners from around the country were a little astounded that a new commissioner would be willing to stand up. But I wasn’t elected to be a peacemaker with other commissioners around the country. I was elected to take care of the families in Alabama and they were kind enough to give me this job so when I went to Washington to represent the people of Alabama I stood up in a crowded ballroom and went toe-to-toe with the director of the EPA and let them know that Alabama families were most concerned about keeping utility rates low so that we can keep jobs in Alabama and keep food on the table.
In part two of our interview Commissioner Cavanaugh talks more about the future and direction of the commission as well as decisions she has made in her roll as commissioner.