The president of the one of the state’s largest business groups called an Arizona Corporation Commission candidate’s proposal to cut off utilities from illegal immigrants cruel, dangerous and a cheap political stunt.
“Your cynical attempt to ratchet up the rhetoric over immigration to score cheap political points in a bid for office marks a new low in our state’s immigration debate,” Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Glenn Hamer wrote June 30 of Commission candidate Barry Wong’s proposal.
Hamer noted that temperatures in Phoenix easily reach the 110-degree mark in summer.
“To deny someone access to electricity based on his or her immigration status is not only a wrongheaded policy proposal, it’s just cruel,” he said. “If your proposal were to take effect, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a household has its electric utilities shut off in the summer heat, thus exposing children or the elderly to potentially fatal consequences.”
Hamer wrote the critical commentary after reading an article in the Arizona Republic, which quoted Wong, a former lawmaker, as saying if elected he would require public utilities to check the legal status of customers as a way to keep costs down for other customers.
According to the article, Wong said serving a growing number of people with power would raise utility rates because it would require new power plants, and ensuring that utilities did not serve the undocumented could protect other ratepayers from utility hikes.
Hamer told the Arizona Capitol Times that he wrote the letter because Wong’s idea is “so far beyond the pale” that the candidate needs to be called out.
“It just screams of political opportunism,” Hamer said, adding cutting off anyone’s utility service is simply not an option because if implemented, it could lead to a loss of life.
The chamber didn’t endorse Wong for the Commission. Instead, it threw its support behind Republican candidates Gary Pierce and Brenda Burns. But his letter has nothing to do with the chamber’s earlier endorsements for the Commission, Hamer said.
Wong defended the proposal and said he broached the idea, which was made in response to a query, from a purely economic standpoint.
“If a group is here illegally, improperly, if that presence has a strong negative financial impact on everybody else who is here properly then that’s something we should look at,” Wong told the Arizona Capitol Times. “I think as a former commissioner and a candidate for the Commission, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t look at all angles to how to protect my ratepayers.”
But Hamer said the proposal may also end up hurting U.S. citizens.
“And since you’re concerned over the citizenship of ratepayers, it bears pointing out that U.S. citizens in that household could be the ones who bear the brunt of your idea,” Hamer said.
As far as the proposal’s potential impact on members of a household who are citizens, such as U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, Wong said that’s why the idea needs to be studied carefully.
In making the proposal, he drew parallels to the state’s decision to deny access to welfare assistance to illegal immigrants.
“I think that we can take a page from that policy,” he said, adding the question would be how to adopt and tailor it to a utility situation.
Much of Hamer’s letter talked about the dire consequences of shutting down a household’s utilities.
“It’s not just air conditioning that gets shut off under your proposal, but also medical equipment like respirators or dialysis machines or cooking equipment.”
But Wong said no one’s power would be shut down without adequate or reasonable notice.
“I would be reasonable and say that you’ve got to give people adequate time to plan ahead and with proper notice to the general population that this issue and policy is coming down the pipeline. So if the people think it applies to them then they need to take appropriate action and take personal responsibility,” he said.
Wong, a Republican, faces Burns and Pierce in the Aug. 24 primary election. If elected, he would need a majority of the five-member board to go along with the proposal.