Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Hero’s Tribute

By Mark Glaess, Manager
Minnesota Rural Electric Association

Andy Reichwein was among lineworkers from the Minnesota-based Connexus Energy who joined thousands of other linemen from across the United States to restore power to storm-stricken co-ops earlier this month. The brotherhood that is the nation’s lineworkers left their homes, left their families, left their attendant tasks to attend to the hundreds of thousands of co-op members located in Arkansas, Missouri and Kentucky who saw electric lines littering roads and ditches. No national headlines hail the sacrifices Andy made, nor do these linemen ask for such.

John Thain, by comparison, is the former Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange and the last CEO and Board Chairman of Merrill Lynch. Among Thain’s notable accomplishments were losses exceeding $25 billion yet paying $4 billion in bonuses, including pocketing $10 million and dropping $1.2 million to spiff his office. Those deft corporate decisions netted him an invitation from the New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo likely expressed the same disbelief, as did Congress, when the CEOs of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors taxied into Washington D.C. on their individual corporate jets to plead for $25 billion in loans to reinvigorate the companies they drove into the abyss.

The hundreds of thousands of rural electric consumers who lost light, heat, and fresh food in the Southeast are among America’s less fortunate. Minnesota’s electric cooperative members, for example, record a per capita income 20% below the state average. It’s likely a sadly similar statistic in your state too. Through the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program, the nation’s co-ops create jobs and opportunities. The National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation, or CFC, by the way, made that program available obtaining, with National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s assistance, federal guarantee of their loans with the interest savings going to create the $1 billion loan/grant program.

Matthew 23 records the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus observes as you have done “to the least of them, you have done to me.” That becomes our calling, and the calling of each electric cooperative. We are to take care of the poor. That’s the reason we promote programs designed to assist the least of them. It’s also the reason why NRECA framed “Our Energy, Our Future,” to clearly state the co-op’s case for affordability in the face of climate change legislation and other cost pressures on electric rates. FDR also makes the case for this co-op philosophy when he once observed: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide for those who have little.”

John Thain and others lost billions of dollars of those he never knew. Andy Reichwein died while trying to restore electricity to folks he never knew. A tragic accident snapped the pole Andy was straddling sending him to the ground along with a transformer which hit him in the head. Andy leaves behind a wife, a four-year old daughter and friends who grieve his death. The bucket trucks that accompanied this fine young man to his funeral also signified the depth of our program’s convictions – raising high the poles to carry the current providing both light and hope to the least of them. That also makes Andy Reichwein among the very best of them.

Let's all pause to think hard about this.

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