Arizona is in the minority when it comes to our Corporation Commission. Most states do not have an elected Commission like Arizona does, and the last several elections have made it clear that real change needs to come to the Commission soon. I’m not talking about changing who gets elected, but changing from an elected commission to an appointed commission.
I’m writing this before the November 6thelection because my opinion is not going to be impacted by the results and neither should yours. Every poll I hear about suggests one Republican and one Democrat are likely to get elected unless it ends up a true blue wave election, in which case both Democrats might win. Most years, Republicans would win both seats. That’s not the issue.
Having watched these races and managed these races (for both Clean and traditionally funded candidates), I can tell you that these are offices that the average voter knows little about and cares little about. They care about the issues that relate to the Commission a great deal, but they don’t relate those issues to the Commission. They’re happy with the Commission when they get refunds and unhappy when their rates are increased, and that’s largely it.
What has been corroding public opinion of the Commission is the sense that it is bought and paid for by outside interests that voters believe are funding the candidate’s campaigns. Voters have witnessed large-scale proxy battles between solar companies and established utilities like APS and assume that whoever wins is beholden to the group that got them elected.
There are several problems that aren’t likely to be solved, making this change worth considering. There is no public appetite to contribute enough money to Corp Comm candidates to render the outside money inconsequential. When Bob Burns and Andy Tobin were both running for election, both as incumbents, both with capable Rolodexes, one as a former Senate President and the other as a former Speaker of the House who had raised seven figures for a run for Congress, they raised less than $95,000 total between the both of them.
Unless you are blessed with a very loyal and capable Rolodex, the only people you can raise real money from for this office are the very people voters do not want candidates raising money from – people connected to the same companies regulated by the Corporation Commission.
Nor is running under the Clean Elections system a good option. It’s an extremely large number of five dollars contributions that must be collected and the money you receive is entirely insufficient to run a real statewide race if you are going to have to compete with these outside groups.
So, the real campaigns are run by the outside groups who remain outside of the control of the candidates or their campaigns. In 2016 massive spending by solar groups triggered a similar sized response by APS and when the APS backed candidates prevailed, every vote they took afterwards was suspect. But the fact is that had the other slate prevailed, their votes would have been equally as suspect.
Here in 2018, the Democrat ticket of Kennedy and Sears is being backed by millions of out-of-state dollars because they have promised to advance the core of Prop127 even as the voters of Arizona explicitly reject it at the ballot box. Moreover, those spending the millions have explicitly targeted APS in their announcements and their campaign message. Should the Democrats prevail, voters will have zero reason to believe that they are going to act as neutral judges in rate cases involving APS, because their success was funded almost entirely by groups with anti-APS agendas.
Which means under the current situation the vast majority of candidates cannot raise enough money to run a real statewide campaign, the real messaging originates with outside groups that have business before the commission, and no matter who wins, those who get elected, and ultimately the entire Commission itself, will have completely lost the trust of the voting public.
The only practical way to fix this is to amend the State Constitution and make the Commissioners appointed positions. Appointed by the Governor, confirmed by the State Senate, serving staggered terms as they do now.
Might these outside groups redirect their spending into the Governor’s race in a hope of influencing the Commission’s makeup? Certainly, but that spending would be diluted in a much larger pool of money representing every type of voter or interest. And voters elect Governors to steer the general direction of the state, so having a Corporation Commission that largely reflects the philosophy or ideology of the Governor will still reflect the people’s will.
Lastly, making this change also increases the likelihood that appointees have subject matter expertise that most candidates for the Commission lack. This will produce a more professional Commission, free from the politics that currently consumes it, and clear of the sense that nearly every Commissioner “owes” one side or the other their votes.