As the story goes, in the early 1980s a young activist trying to build support in Springfield for the creation of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) bumped into a ComEd lobbyist who wore a three-piece suit. “Never in a million years” would there be a CUB, the lobbyist proclaimed.
CUB was created, of course. And that young activist eventually became governor, while the lobbyist never got out of the starting gate. “Thirty years later we’re here and he’s still looking for his gym shoes,” Gov. Pat Quinn said, sparking applause and chuckles at CUB’s 30th birthday party Monday night.
A who’s who of Illinois consumer advocacy gathered at the celebration, including Jack Darin, head of Illinois’ Sierra Club; Marty Cohen, former head of CUB and chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC); and Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and the first head of CUB’s board of directors.
“CUB has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” Learner said. “It’s sensational.”
Creating the consumer group was a team effort, but Quinn is called “CUB’s founding father” because as a young activist he spearheaded a statewide referendum movement. In 1983, after voters in 114 Illinois communities passed an advisory referendum in support of CUB, the General Assembly passed the CUB Act.
The consumer group opened its doors the next year and has since saved Illinois consumers more than $10 billion. But the battles are the same as they ever were, and Gov. Quinn paid homage to CUB’s roots as he produced an original CUB fundraising envelope from his pockets Monday night.
“Are you fed up with soaring utility rates?” he governor asked, reading off the envelope. Then he answered his own question with a resounding “Yes!”
The utility world has changed a lot since 1984, when nobody had heard of the smart grid and cellphones were a novelty so bulky they were called bricks. But CUB has weathered it all.
“We really have the best staff in the business, and I couldn’t be more proud to work with them,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata said. “Consumers will always need someone in their corner and CUB will always hold that ground.”
Quinn quipped that CUB is just getting started: “The first 30 years are the toughest. Now we’re ready to go.”