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The Work From Home Show

May 11, 2023

In this podcast episode of the Work From Home Show, former Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich is interviewed about his experiences fighting against a utility monopoly and corporate interests in Cleveland. He discusses his book "The Division of Light and Power" and the importance of protecting public ownership and assets from corporate interests. The conversation then shifts to Kucinich's role as the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and his experiences working with Republicans during his time in Congress. 

Dennis Kucinich's background and book [00:01:22] Congressman Dennis Kucinich talks about his book "The Division of Light and Power" and his experiences fighting against a utility monopoly and corporate interests in Cleveland.

How citizens can fight back against privatization efforts [00:09:14] A third person asks how citizens can fight back against privatization efforts and Kucinich discusses the importance of asking questions and making issues out of undervalued public assets.

The Cost of Privatization [00:10:24] Congressman Kucinich discusses the negative impact of privatization on taxpayers and rate payers in Cleveland.

Corporate Interests and Political Corruption [00:13:15] Congressman Kucinich talks about the attempts of corporations to buy off politicians through campaign contributions and his personal experience with a bank's offer.

Combatting Income Inequality [00:18:51] Congressman Kucinich suggests creating a jobs program to combat income inequality and ensure every able-bodied person has an opportunity to make a living.

Full Employment Economy [00:20:03] Congressman Kucinich discusses the challenges of finding meaningful work with benefits, especially during COVID-19, and advocates for a full employment economy.

Working Across the Aisle [00:21:17] Kucinich shares his experience of working with Republicans in Congress, including Tom Delay, to achieve common goals and emphasizes the importance of looking beyond party lines.

Campaign Contributions and Community Organizing [00:24:54] Kucinich discusses the corrupting influence of campaign contributions and suggests that candidates should be careful about who they accept money from. He also highlights the power of community organizing to overcome the influence of money in politics.

Speaker 1 (00:00:29) - Hey everybody. Welcome to The Work From Home Show. I'm Naso with Adam Schrader. Shout out to all our homies, homeboys, homegirls, home trans, all the work from Homers out there. Today. We have Congressman Dennis Kucinich on the show. You've probably heard of him, uh, if, if, if you've been around a few years, if you were around in 2004, 2008, that he was a presidential candidate for the Democrat Party. He's a Ohio Congressman from 1997 to 2013. He's the former chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. We'll talk a little bit about that. He's the author of the new bestselling book, the Division of Light and Power. So without further ado, Mr. Dennis Kucinich, thank you for joining us on the Work From Home Show.

Speaker 2 (00:01:22) - Uh, thank you very much for the invitation. And you know, I know people sometimes have trouble with my name. I, it took me a year to learn how to pronounce it, but it is Kucinich and I did represent, um, uh, Cleveland area in the United States Congress for 16 years. The book that I've written, the Division of Light and Power, is the story of, uh, the beginning of my career when I went to, um, uh, this Cleveland City Council and had the opportunity, uh, as a young councilman, 23 years old, to, uh, explore the depth of involvement of various interest groups, and in particular, the, uh, political corruption that was going on to undermine the city's municipal electric system. And I was quite alarmed when I saw that. And I started to take very careful notes about, uh, the machinations of the political system working with a monopoly, uh, utility, uh, conspiring to, uh, sell, uh, the city's, uh, municipally owned electric system. So the book begins there at, uh, on, on with a blackout in December of 1969. And the lights keep going out. And when you find out why the lights keep going out, it's shocking. And so the story opens there, and it goes right until my election is mayor. And through those years, which, uh, describe the, the tremendous battle that took place between my office, the utility of monopolies, the banks, and the mob.

Speaker 1 (00:03:05) - Wow, that sounds, that sounds scary. Let's, uh, let's talk a little bit more about that. I'm especially curious to learn more about, uh, just a little more detail on how you fought. Sure. Beat, uh, this utility monopoly and also the corporate espionage, espionage, and sabotage, bank co-conspirators, uh, organized crime. There were even assassination attempts, I believe.

Speaker 2 (00:03:36) - Right? Exactly. Well, here's, here's the way it came out. Uh, Cleveland has had its own, uh, municipal electric system, public power, uh, since the turn of the 20th century. And, uh, it, it has competed side by side in a third of the city with a private investor owned utility. The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, uh, no, also known as C Ei. C EI tried to block the formation of Muni light right in its inception. At its inception. They were not successful in doing that. Over the years, though, they began to secretly plan and then execute a strategy to undermine the city's municipally owned utility by blocking repairs in the Cleveland City Council, which were needed to, um, uh, uh, to, uh, help the city's, uh, capacity to generate electricity. Uh, they, uh, also, uh, started a PR campaign with the general media who they, where they advertised heavily to attack and undermine the city's, uh, utility and public ownership.

Speaker 2 (00:04:50) - Furthermore, uh, the city wouldn't, when the private utility successfully blocked any repairs to the city generators, the city had to turn outside and said, we've gotta buy power from somewhere else. The c e I blocked the city from buying power outside the city, and then the city could only get power from c e I and c EI tripled the cost, so they would run up the, uh, city's operating expenses. And then, uh, finally, we, we were fighting for connection, you know, in Texas, uh, Texas found out about, uh, the, uh, importance of being able to connect outside your territory for power if you know you have, uh, a shutdown as you know, your experience with Ercot in, you know, in the early part of this year, <laugh>. Yeah, that was fun. And so what happened is that, here's the thing, every, you know, being connected to the grid nationally was vital for the city of Cleveland.

Speaker 2 (00:05:54) - But c I blocked us from getting connected to the national grid, so we were isolated. So we had to rely on them for backup power in case we had an outage, which, you know, it was became likely because we weren't able to fix our equipment. And the book documents how some of the blackouts that the city experienced were actually created by C EI so that they could try to use that as an excuse to push the sale. And the public didn't understand this. They didn't understand why when the city needed a transfer of power from C ei, c e I operated that transfer in such a way to deliberately create a blackout on muni system. And that's all documented in the book. And so, you know, the kind of dirty tricks that went on were extraordinary. And c e I got their, you know, they got their comeuppance because the, uh, they were found by the nuclear regulatory commission to have violated numerous provisions of antitrust law.

Speaker 2 (00:06:59) - And they, you know, they, they tried price fixing cutthroat competition. And in the midst of all this, the city council was going to sell our municipal electric system, even though they knew that, uh, c EI had been undermining it and was trying to buy our system for a fraction. I mean, this is, this is a story of something that is unprecedented in US history, that this would come out, uh, the kind of underhandedness that was going on with this utility, uh, all in the, in their plans to try to take over the city owned electric system. And so, it, it, some people have compared the book to the movie Chinatown, uh, which involved water, whereas this involves electricity. So I was elected mayor on a, on a platform to save our municipal electric system. I got elected, I canceled a sale, which had been, um, uh, consummated, uh, and, uh, you know, just, we, we just won that by the skin of our teeth, uh, uh, won the issue by the skin of our teeth. And the second part of the book opens up on this, uh, on the saga that happened, and how the, the utility monopoly, the banks and other corporate interests, uh, put a tremendous squeeze on the city to try to force me as the mayor to give up our electric system.

Speaker 3 (00:08:24) - This sounds very similar to a lot of other bigger, not bigger necessarily, but other issues going on, on a, a national scale where the push towards privatization, where it seems like there's a lot of issues where politicians nationally are willing to let some programs just deteriorate and get worse and get worse, so that they can kind of push the whole, well, if the private sector did it, it would be better. Let's get it out of the hands of, uh, the government and give it to, um, private companies. How do we as citizens push back against that? Because, you know, like, if I don't agree with it and I need to talk to my congressional representative, I'm one of, you know, a couple million that they represent, or a hundred thousand that they represent, and I feel like just a, you know, throwing a pebble in a river, how does a normal citizen fight back against that?

Speaker 2 (00:09:14) - Well, first of all, I wanna say that you have, uh, correctly identified the, uh, urgency of this book at this time, because there, there is, uh, increased privat, there are increased privatization efforts underway, and they will accelerate once the American rescue plan money, uh, dries up, uh, you know, in city after city. So first of all, you have to, you know, when you see a privatization effort underway, uh, start asking questions right away, like, why, uh, I will promise you that every privatization effort results in the public, uh, public assets being stolen, uh, you can make an issue out of how much is being paid for that, uh, electric system, water system, whatever. Because I will, I will guarantee you every municipal asset that's ever up for privatizations being undervalued. That was part of our story. It was, uh, for example, uh, the c EI was ready to purchase, uh, muni light in Cleveland for 88.1 million.

Speaker 2 (00:10:24) - Uh, and, uh, we, we determined that the value of it was at, uh, at least a quarter of a billion dollars plus, uh, the loss to the taxpayers that would come when they, the taxpayers would've to pay the full rate. Plus the rate increases to the private utility would've to, uh, pay for street lighting and service to the city facilities to private utility, you know, and pay a premium price. And so taxes were gonna go up and, uh, rate payers who were forced to buy the private power would also see their, uh, budgets cut into by increased utility costs, privatization, uh, can, uh, and, and is often a nightmare for communities. This book shows how to fight it. But you, and the biggest and most important way is you have to do your homework. You have to do the research, and you have to pay attention to what's going on, not to what the media's saying, because all too often corporate media ignores the needs of the people and instead serves the needs of, of narrow economic interests that are gonna capitalize on a privatization.

Speaker 2 (00:11:34) - Now, this battle in Cleveland, which was unprecedented, drew in a bank, uh, which told me on December 15th, 1978, that either you, the mayor, the bank will not renew the city's credit on loans. I hadn't been taken out. And so I had to make a decision what I stood for. I told them, no, it turned out the bank was a business partner of the utility. They stood to profit as well from the privatization, shocking. And the banks will check this out. So the people of Cleveland followed my leadership and, and increased their taxes. They taxed themselves more. They pay off the defaulted notes on loans I hadn't taken out. And when the tax passed, the banks who had proposed the tax to pay off the notes, and who said that if you pass the tax, we'll take out a default, they were Ned on their commitment and kicked the, kept the city into default until I left office.

Speaker 2 (00:12:29) - And, uh, and in addition to that, uh, they had agreed to abide by the decision of the voters. And the question of people voted two to one to keep muni light, the banks in the corporate community turned around after the people voted two to one to say, Nope, you gotta sell that system, <laugh>. I mean, this is, so I stood, I was 31 years old, and I stood against this crude, uh, extortionate exercise of corporate power that really was, you know, was so intent on having its way that they were prepared to destroy the city to get a, uh, a monopoly on electricity. But, you know, we stopped them <laugh>,

Speaker 1 (00:13:15) - First off, did the corporation, the electric company, did they try to pay you or buy you off? And how easy is it for corporations to buy off politicians?

Speaker 2 (00:13:28) - Oh, it's called campaign contributions, big ones. No, I, I, I, you know, what, what happened was this, uh, uh, the, the day of default, the biggest bank told me, Hey, look, uh, if you go ahead with this sale, we'll give, we'll, we'll loan, loan the city 50 million, and you can do whatever you want with it. You know, you, it was like a, a express pass to reelection, you know, all of a sudden you could start paving the streets in gold. And, uh, but of course, you know, I knew, you know, they, they were asking, I mean, it was a fraud. They were, they wanted, uh, me to give up an electric system that was worth more money than the monopoly was ready to pay for it. And they were gonna let the city borrow more money. I mean, give me a break, you know, I was, as I said, I was a very young person.

Speaker 2 (00:14:19) - I suppose they felt they could roll me at that point. You know, I looked younger than I, I was, and I think they probably, I had a certain amount of disbelief, cognitive dissonance, saying, oh geez, how can this be happening with this kid who's the mayor? You know, I was the youngest mayor in America at the time of any big city. But I, my, the task that I took on, uh, was one where I had to take a stand against these corporate interests that were determined to have their way, even if it meant, uh, uh, smearing the very city in which they operated.

Speaker 3 (00:14:54) - I want to touch on you becoming mayor there. How, what made you, and it always amazes me, when people go into politics in general, like, I have a friend who's one of my best friends, is a mayor of a city here in Texas, but it's like a 2000 person town, so it's nothing like Cleveland. What made you decide, like, what was, I mean, was it the electric situation that made you think you should go into public office? Or what led you to think I should get involved in politics?

Speaker 2 (00:15:22) - Well, you know, I, I entered politics at the age of 20 as a candidate for city council. Uh, and I, I got involved because, you know, growing up in the air of the sixties, uh, the change was in the wind. And I felt the best way to change things was to go inside the system. And I've always felt from a spiritual standpoint that my life didn't belong just to me, uh, that all of our lives belong to community, that, uh, you know, while we can make our own choices, that we should always try to do something for the betterment of society and not just, uh, take care of, you know, take, yeah, we have to take care of our sal and you also need to think of others as well. So that was the spirit that I brought into public life, uh, not to, uh, uh, uh, do well, but to do good.

Speaker 2 (00:16:17) - And I'm, um, uh, that brought me into, uh, contest for city council. I was elected on my second try by 16 votes. I beat an entrenched democratic machine to be elected to the council. And the story opens up on, uh, at Christmas time in 1969 with this holiday season blackout, which as we found out later on, uh, these blackouts were being created by this, uh, uh, private utility in their, as part of their scheme to take over the public system. So, you know, I, I started very early. I made a choice early to go on the inside. Um, and, you know, so I was motivated by, you know, wanting to be of service. And I still am.

Speaker 1 (00:17:02) - Shifting gears just a little bit. You chaired the Congressional Progressive Caucus to lessen income inequality way back in the early two thousands. The latest figures I've seen, income equality has only gotten worse. Can you explain why that is and what the initial goal of the C P C was and what's gone wrong with it?

Speaker 2 (00:17:28) - Well, you know, first of all, uh, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has had, uh, you know, a number of really important leaders, including Bernie Sanders, uh, uh, Pete DeFazio, uh, and others. And the purpose of the caucus was to present, um, a different approach to management of the government's resources. So we presented our own budget, which emphasized healthcare and education and housing, uh, and Deemphasized war and, and, you know, and military spending. Uh, the whole idea was about, you know, revisiting our, uh, what's what is necessary to support people in our society, uh, to support their, their existence. So this, this caucus, uh, has members who are quite diverse in their politics. Uh, and occasionally they'll vote as a block on certain issues in Congress. Uh, you know, it, it may happen less and less now, uh, there's a lot more pressure in Congress now that things are much more polarized, and, uh, every organization within the Congress is perhaps more fractionated than it's ever been. And so that, that is indeed a problem.

Speaker 3 (00:18:47) - So how did, how do we combat income inequality today then?

Speaker 2 (00:18:51) - First of all, every able-bodied person should have an opportunity to make a living. Um, and if the private sector doesn't, can't provide the jobs, the public sector has to, I mean, we're in an interesting position right now in the Covid era where, uh, the economy is starting to move ahead. But, you know, there's so many job openings now. People, uh, are just, you know, getting back into a, a mode of, um, of, well, first of all, work's being redefined. And secondly, uh, there's a lot of jobs out there that are wanting. So, you know, it's a little bit different than it was a few years ago where the economy was being managed in such a way that a certain amount of unemployment was seen as being necessary, the proper functioning of the economy. We don't seem to have that right now, but I think that it would be good if the government, uh, created a jobs program and gave people an opportunity to do long-term productive work in restoring our environment and in, uh, in helping to repair our infrastructure.

Speaker 2 (00:20:03) - Uh, you know, I'm, I I, and the other thing is that having work with no benefits is, you know, quite a challenge. Uh, people, uh, uh, are finding that the cost of healthcare is extraordinary, and being able to meet your healthcare needs of your family might be almost impossible, even though you may have a job that is paying you more than $15 an hour. So you, you know, it's, it the, um, COVID added a, uh, a layer of complexity to this question of, uh, of employment and, and meaningful work. And, um, it's gonna, I think, take a while to sort that out. But I think our polar star has to be a full employment economy with, uh, meaningful, productive work available to all those who are able to work and with, uh, supportive systems for those who can, for no fault of their own, cannot work.

Speaker 1 (00:20:58) - You touched on the polarization in Congress right now. When you were in Congress, was it more friendly? Were people more friendly? Were Republicans more friendly to you? Did people, were politicians more willing to work together, or? Well,

Speaker 2 (00:21:17) - Let, lemme tell you, it, it, you know, yes and no, uh, uh, you know, there's always a certain amount of political polarity that that exists. I mean, the very basic, the very basis of a two-party system is by its definition polarized. You have Democrats have Republicans, and for some people, never the twin shall meet. Uh, I did it differently. I worked on both sides of the aisle, and as a result, I had the opportunity to make, uh, uncommon friendships with, uh, people on the Republican side, including those in the Texas delegation. Uh, you know, when I, I mean, I'll tell you a story. To give you an example. The Clinton administration was looking for authorization to continue the bombing of, um, Serbia. Uh, and they were, you know, and to keep the war going over there. And I was, I was opposed to that. So, uh, they, the authorization I think, was Senate Joint Resolution 21 came up in 1999, and I was trying to figure out a way to defeat it.

Speaker 2 (00:22:26) - And finally, I came upon a plan that would've required the help of the Republicans. So I went to Tom Delay and I explained to him, uh, what my objective was. Now, he may have had some political, uh, strategy in mind, but the long story short is we put together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, and we stopped the war. Now, somebody would say, well, delay would never go along with something like that. Well, he did, and we worked together, and we stopped a war that was, that should have never been fought by. And so, uh, you know, I'm, what I'm saying is that forget about party, forget about ideology, look to what your goals are and see if you can find a way to get alliances at certain times and places. And you might be surprised. So I never, um, you know, when, when people, you know, when I'm looking for Ally, I don't care about Party at all.

Speaker 2 (00:23:24) - I mean, I've worked with Ron Paul on so many of Texas, so on so many issues of foreign policy. And we found that, well, we had differences in domestic policy. We work together to try to limit us involvement in these, in these wars. And, you know, the, that's why I'm saying there might be polarization today, but it's often mindless people, you know, need to talk to one another and find out what they actually stand for. <laugh>. And like in any family, you may not agree even within a family with each other on something. And it could be very important, you look to those things you can't agree on, and that's where you do your work. And so that's what, you know, that was my approach in Congress, and I think that approach could still work. Today.

Speaker 3 (00:24:10) - We've talked about kind of money in politics being an issue in buying off politicians. You look at what's happening today in, you know, congressional races, especially presidential races. I mean, you see campaigns spending, you know, a billion plus dollars for a job that makes $400,000 a year. And, you know, there's a whole lot more to it than, you know, just that, just the job and the salary. You know, obviously being president has so much power in it, and you also see it in congressional races where money from all over the country flows into one specific state. How do we keep our politicians in a way that the community can still show their support for them, but they're not being completely bought off?

Speaker 2 (00:24:54) - Well, you know, going back to the book, uh, the Division of Light and Power, uh, when these corporations had their interest, I never went to them for money. So nobody forces an elected official or somebody running for office to go to a certain group and say, Hey, give me money. I mean, that's where it begins. And when they do give money, nobody forces you to take that money if they offer it to you. So, you know, it's not as though, uh, we're just helpless cuz those who aspire off have to be very careful about, uh, who is, uh, providing contributions to them. And to make sure that you can be independent of those contributions and function autonomously with, without, uh, um, without the, uh, large Jess, which comes into campaign coffers. And that is very tough. And what I'm prescribing here is not easy, but the book that, you know, the Division Light and Power points out, that when people organize at a community level, they can overcome almost any interest group.

Speaker 2 (00:26:02) - But, you know, it's the organization and the knowledge of what is actually happening that empowers people to overcome the influence of money. I mean, I was, you know, we were heavily outspent in Cleveland on the, uh, on, on every election that involved either, either, um, uh, you know, either with my name on the ballot or an issue oriented election. We were heavily, uh, outspent, but because we aligned with the popular interest and how people understand their interest, we won anyway. Now, I eventually was defeated in 1979 because the banks kept the city into default, and people at that time did not understand why despite having paid, uh, uh, more money on their taxes, we were still in default. But years later now, the people of Cleveland understand it. So yeah, campaign contributions have, can totally corrupt the system, but no one forces these candidates to take that money. And if they do take the money, then that needs to be noted by the voters, uh, to see if those interests align with the, uh, more specific concerns of, uh, the electorate.

Speaker 1 (00:27:15) - That's Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Dennis Kucinich, thank you so much for joining us on The Work From Home Show. Your latest book is called The Division of Light and Power, the Division of Light and Power and your website dot, uh,

Speaker 2 (00:27:31) - Well, they, they, they can, uh, go to, um, finny avenue, uh, where they can purchase a book through many different links, or they can go to, um, Barnes and Noble, target, Amazon. There's a whole list of, uh, of places you can get the book, go to your local bookstore and ask for it. And then if you don't, they don't have it, uh, in stock, they'll order it. Uh, and you'll have it shortly.

Speaker 1 (00:27:59) - And your website is Congressman Dennis Kucinich, any final thoughts you want to share with our listeners or anything else you wanna promote?

Speaker 2 (00:28:08) - No, I mean, I appreciate being on your show and, you know, and this virtual book tour that I'm doing from house to house, uh, with your help is, is very important. I mean, this book, uh, it took me 40 years to write it. Uh, it is thoroughly documented and I've been told that there's never been a book quite like this that explains, uh, the political process from an insider's point of view. And again, you know, it's one thing to fight City Hall from the outside. Uh, try fighting City Hall when you're the mayor. <laugh>.

Speaker 1 (00:28:42) - Yeah, completely understood. This is a wild, wild story. I'm gonna have to check out the book. So, once again, the Division of Light and Power, get the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, wherever you get your, your books. Congressman Dennis Cinj. Thank you once again for joining us on the Work From Home Show to all our listeners. Check us out at work from home Email us if you have any questions. Hello, at work from home You can follow us on all social media, leave us a review on whatever podcasting platform you use. And until next week, keep on working from home.