Appointing AZ Corporation Commissioners

The Arizona Corporation Commission oversees many important tasks of government as well as providing regulation and rules for Arizona utilities.  There are five commissioners elected by voters who serve four year terms.  The elections for these positions has had a long and a bit controversial history culminating in a nasty election where APS, the state's biggest utility, spent countless "dark money" dollars to elect two commissioners to get a majority of Republicans on the commission who would potentially favor a customer rate increase.

Senator Gowan (R-Sierra Vista) thinks that changing to a system where commissioners are appointed rather than elected will help reform the process and take money out of the equation.  He has proposed SCR (Senate Concurring Resolution) 1048 that, if passed by both chambers of the legislature, would put the question to the voters in the form a ballot referendum for the November 2020 general election.

Commentary by Bob Karp

I agree with some of the concerns of Senator Gowan.  There is too much dark money in the election process.  It is difficult for commissioners to raise money to compete in a statewide election for a rather unknown "down ballot" office.   However, I'm not yet ready to back such a ballot referendum.  I agree with the Herald/Review editorial of 2/16/2020 that ends with "Sen. Gowan's proposal deserves serious debate in the public forum..." but the rest of that sentence "... and we support putting it on the Nov. 3, 2020, ballot." needs a lot more discussion.

Why the rush? - In 2018 a Sandra Kennedy was elected to the commission after a vigorous campaign that didn't seemed to be marred by election mischief.  There are other solutions to solve the money problem.  Have all candidates run as "clean elections" candidates using public financing.  Pass some decent campaign finance reporting reforms which Democrats support and Republicans oppose.  That will help solve the "dark money" problem.

I have little faith in allowing appointment of commissioners solving the politicization of the commission.  I tend to take the side of not taking away the power of voters to decide who they want to govern.  Yes, we need for the election for Corporation Commission to be more open and informative for the voters, as is the case for all offices in Arizona government.

Let's work on ways to make the campaign and election process better - more public forums, better coverage by the media, access to social media and other digital platforms for all candidates.  Let's have a conversation about those approaches before we just "putting on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot."

Update 2/19/2020 - State Senator Juan Mendez (D- LD 26) has proposed SCR 1027 that would have appointed commissioners by one each Governor and leaders of both parties in the state senate and house.  I would consider supporting this type of solution.

Posted in Ideas/Opinion, Issues.

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