Gov. Gray Davis says he knows how to end rolling blackouts plaguing California. One is to build more power plants, but that can't be done overnight. The other is do what other states - including Georgia and South Carolina - have done under deregulation. Let the marketplace determine the price of electricity.
If there's an energy shortage prices will rise accordingly and consumers - both industrial and residential - will feel it in their pocketbooks. Politicians won't have to plead and beg for conservation. The public will conserve naturally to save on utility bills.
So why doesn't Davis take this route? Instead he's putting state government through tortuous, complex contortions of borrowing and spending multi-millions to buy power from out-of-state.
The reason, says the governor, is because of his state's initiative process. California is the easiest state in the nation get issues on the ballot for voters to decide - issues which in most states are decided by elected officials. Some referenda, to limit taxes and curb state benefits for illegal immigrants, have made sense.
But other initiatives haven't; hence, Davis' fear. If the state stops subsidizing consumers' electricity bills and makes them pay soaring market prices, the political repercussions would be severe.
Socialist activists have already served notice that if consumers are made to pay full market price for energy, they'll launch a ballot initiative to impose price controls on energy supplies and there's a good chance outraged voters would approve it.
This would create an impossible situation for state officials. Price controls, which can have great appeal to a frustrated public, never work - at least not for long. If they did the Soviet Union and East Germany would still be in business. But beyond that, how could California control electricity rates even in the short term when the state must buy energy out-of-state where costs aren't regulated.
Activists who would seek to convince voters to regulate energy prices are the same collection of tree-hugging, regulatory zealots who are responsible for bringing on the rolling blackouts in the first place.
For more than a decade these zanies blocked every effort to build more power plants to meet California's rising energy demands. Now they seek to exploit voters to block the only other means to bring sanity to the energy market.
Those who want help should first help themselves. And so far we've seen little of that in California which seems to want something for nothing.
It may be harsh medicine, but if California voters are dumb enough to vote themselves into an East German energy economy, then they should be made to live with the ugly consequences.