By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An Arizona power commissioner has dared Los Angeles officials to turn off the electricity they get from Arizona if they are serious about boycotting the state over its crackdown on illegal immigration.
In a sharply worded letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that raises the political stakes for America's second-largest city, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce noted that Los Angeles gets 25 percent of its electricity from Arizona and challenged the mayor to cut off that supply.
"If an economic boycott is truly what you desire, I will be happy to encourage Arizona utilities to renegotiate your power agreements so that Los Angeles no longer receives any power from Arizona-based generation," Pierce said in the letter.
"If, however, you find that the City Council lacks the strength of its convictions to turn off the lights in Los Angeles and boycott Arizona power, please reconsider the wisdom of attempting to harm Arizona's economy."
The letter was sent to Villaraigosa on Tuesday and provided to Reuters by Pierce's office.
Villaraigosa, who was in Washington on Wednesday for the visit of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, issued a statement in which he declined to take up Pierce's challenge directly.
"The Mayor stands strongly behind the city council on this issue and will not respond to threats from a state which has isolated itself from the America that values freedom, liberty and basic civil rights," Villaraigosa said in the statement.
A spokesman for the mayor declined to comment beyond the statement. City Councilman Ed Reyes, who sponsored Los Angeles' economic boycott measure of Arizona and made headlines with his fiery rhetoric, could not be reached for comment.
Pierce told Reuters in an interview that his letter was not intended as a threat because Arizona officials could not legally terminate the power agreements on their own.
"They own that power, they could negotiate to rid themselves of that power, it's a benefit to Los Angeles," he said. "If you're going to divest yourself, divest yourself all the way. So swallow deep, mayor and city council, and do it. Or back off and let's be friends again."
Los Angeles officials voted 13-1 last Wednesday to end about $8 million in contracts with Arizona, becoming the largest U.S. city to impose such an economic boycott.
The city left another $50 million in contracts in place but the council has directed department heads to refrain from doing future business with Arizona or companies headquartered there.
Pierce is one of five elected members of the Arizona Corporation Commission, which governs water, power and public utilities companies in the state, as well as rail and pipeline safety and securities law.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)