Mize Musings: Utility Consumer Protections, Rx marijuana, etc.

Patrick B. McGuigan, special to The Southwest Ledger

State Rep. Garry Mize, R-Guthrie, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Utilities, knew from the start of his legislative career the panel “traditionally is not the source of a lot of legislation. But in the aftermath of the winter storms, we handled the most expensive policy piece perhaps in state history with the securitization issue.”

As Mike Ray reported for Southwest Ledger (April 29, 2021), Mize was a key player in shepherding Senate Bill 1050 (Regulated Utility Consumer Protection Act) and Senate Bill 1049 (Unregulated Utility Consumer Protection Act) through this year’s legislative process.

The measures “securitized” the massive energy costs incurred by utilities during the shocking subfreezing February winter weather.

In an interview with The Southwest Ledger, Mize said, “I believe what we accomplished was good. The question is whether that is the best we could do or … if we need to add to it, catch anything we didn’t catch in session.”

Among the Mize musings of our early June exchange, he wondered, “Did we do all we could? We need to make sure, but can never do everything for everybody. We had meetings last week and this and I know we will be having more in the time ahead.”

In the process of “securitization,” Mize, members of the House and Senate studied what other states had done in recent decades to recover from extreme weather.

As he said in February, “At least 20 other states have used this concept to recover from extreme weather events.” The goal was to avoid the impact of “surprising consumers with crippling utility bills.”

The new laws, as Ray reported then, create “a property right based on the customer charges for the securitization, which guarantees the holders of the bonds will be repaid. The Oklahoma Development Finance Authority (ODFA) is authorized to issue ratepayer-backed bonds. The maturity period of those bonds is limited to no more than 30 years.”

Medical Marijuana Musings 

The work of a dutiful legislator is never done, of course. In our June interview, Mize said oversight of developments in the medical marijuana industry (the right word, it seems) “has emerged as an important issue. What’s most needed? It’s easy to say legislators, that is, the Legislature at the time did not get ahead of that issue when it emerged. Now, we have momentum building to grapple with issues that arise from medical marijuana question.”

He continued, “After the state question passed … some legislators must have thought they did not want to set [bad] precedents. Now it’s clear some better policy is need. What needs to happen next – as with any issue – is to get everybody on board to the extent possible. That means the state Senate, the governor and the private sector.”

A continuing issue “is wording of the state question, which has recreational orientation. We’ve heard that from advocates in other states. For now, we need to adequately fund the agency the people created by passing the measure.”

Hinting at tough choices ahead: “There are international folks coming into Oklahoma, trying to make money and some don’t care too much what the law actually says. Generally speaking, what we hear from rural folks is that ‘international folks’ with resources are pushing the edges of the law in terms of what is actually permitted. As policymakers, we have to figure that out.”

He admitted, “It is a difficult political issue. Certainly, development of policy in this area is not a traditional Republican issue or way to go about handling an issue of policy. That may seem a fine nuance, trying to address concerns about medical marijuana practices but not to undo the will of the people.”

Just days ago, “I spoke with a group of Logan County Republican women, and they recognized that [ballot] measure passed overwhelmingly in the first place, including in Logan County. Out in the country is where a lot of the edge nonsense is taking place.

“The situation shows the power of money, in that nobody has been seriously policing it. I don’t care who you are, at a certain point it’s tempting to people to accept an offer of resources for access to their land. Finding a balance that structures this for good health and not for recreational abuses.”

Something we share: Health Struggles and elements of ‘B.S.’  

Reflecting broadly on his experience at the state Capitol, Mize said, “I have been surprised at the dissension between the agencies and the Legislature. I would love to see more collaboration and more bipartisanship on all kinds of issues – to lay out at the front end what is and is not on the table. Lay out the issues. Make a reasonable deal. Work it out.”

Rep. Mize has carved out a niche for his work on Mental Health and Substance Abuse issues. He told this reporter, “I believe we are further down the road than two years ago. We spent some money on those issues this year, and we spent some time on it. We now have a bipartisan, bicameral caucus. We’re never going to change or advance any issue until we’re talking about it.

“Now, we have people of good faith working on mental health and substance abuse issues. So, we can talk about changes. Statistics shows that these issues touch all of us.

“A lot of people – probably most people – struggled during the pandemic. Regardless of anyone’s views on masks and such issues, the pandemic was a time of struggle for a lot of people. Now there is help in more and different ways.

“The rhetoric needs to continue to stress that mental health struggles don’t make you ‘abnormal’.”

An uplifting theme in the recent work on mental health/substance abuse issues is: “There is life on the other side. I expect we’ll continue to see progress working together, including spending for the programs.

“There has been a change from some of the age-old rhetoric: ‘Everybody’s got some element of B.S. in their lives, whatever it is.’ Recognizing that, people are looking at how to help each other.”

This reporter told Mize he was surprised the solon raised the utility issue before the question could even be posed. He mused, again: “My experience in the Legislature is similar to that in the private sector: Get in, get dirty, figure it out. The old saying is you can’t be a jack of all trades. And if you try to be, you’ll be a master of none.

“Well, I think you can have an impact on a lot of issues in public life – but I just need to know who the master is.”

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Mize was among the cluster of Republican legislators who attracted no Democratic opposition in the 2020 general election. His comfortable win in the GOP primary (where he garnered almost 67 percent support) re-elected him. He said, “I actually wasn’t surprised because of the 2018 win. My predecessor did draw opponents – but I didn’t – at least, in that race.

After three legislative sessions, with his fourth set for next February, Mize already seems to be a strong candidate for a third term. And the legislative reapportionment process (surprisingly noncontentious) made him look even better.

He commented that his House District 31 had to shrink in area due to population growth and change.

“I was really fortunate, because the nature of the district is ‘it didn’t matter what I gave up’,” he said.

“I have to say it was a fair trade for me. I’m happy because I got a piece of Guthrie on the west side, where my sister lives. That might be a little better for the people. So, we all win.”

Asked to touch on any significant matter where your humble servant had not questioned him, Mize offered perhaps his wisest words yet: “Well, I have a view of politics and of things in general. There is too much emphasis on what we do, not enough on the home and the family. Let’s all make that a priority.”