Democrats Lose Early Leads In Arizona Corporation Commission Race

By Katie Campbell
Published: Wednesday, November 4, 2020 - 1:33am
Updated: Thursday, November 5, 2020 - 8:55am

Arizona Corporation Commission building
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
Arizona Corporation Commission building in downtown Phoenix.

8:01 p.m.

More than 70,000 additional ballots were tallied in Maricopa County at 7 p.m., shaking up a handful of races across the state.

However, the leaders in the race for three open Corporation Commission seats were unmoved. 

Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar, a Democrat, remains on top. Republican Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson has the second seat - likely securing her election to the seat she was first appointed to in 2019 -  and Republican Jim O’Connor is in third.

Former Commissioner Bill Mundell, running as a Democrat despite his past status as a Republican on the commission, has fallen to fifth place behind Republican Eric Sloan. O’Connor is ahead of Sloan by nearly 45,000 votes. 

Maricopa County still has 338,000 early ballots and more than 17,000 provisional ballots left to process. And about 6,300 more early ballots need to be verified. 

Another update is expected out of Maricopa County after 11 p.m. Wednesday night, and daily after 7 p.m. until all votes are counted. 

2:16 p.m.

Democrats have lost their early advantage in the race for three open seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission. And that could threaten new renewable-energy standards the commission approved just days before the election. 

Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar, a Democrat, is maintaining her lead in the six-way race. But her fellow Democrats steadily fell behind as Tuesday night carried on — and incumbent Republican Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson eventually caught up, as did Republican Jim O’Connor. He bumped Democrat Bill Mundell into fourth place, where he currently remains

The development means Democrats will likely claim another seat on the commission, with Tovar, but not enough to take the majority. 

The fluctuations were not unusual for the commission — and margins remain tight — but if Marquez Peterson and O’Connor hold on to their slots, Republicans will keep the majority they currently have. 

It’s a unique bunch of Republicans, though. They’ve been led by Commission Chair Bob Burns, a Republican albeit one who has been a combative foe for APS. Burns, Republican Commissioner Boyd Dunn and Democratic Commissioner Sandra Kennedy voted just last week to require utilities to get all of their energy from carbon-free sources, like solar, by 2050. 

But Burns will term out of his seat after this year. And Dunn failed to qualify for the ballot, leaving his seat open, too. 

That means they won’t be around when the commission finalizes the new standards — or not. 

“The next commission will go through the formal process and make the final determination,” Marquez Peterson says. “So, modifications could be made — that’s the challenge in going through it now. And there was some debate on whether it should continue at this time or wait for the new commission to be in place.”

Marquez Peterson was one of two “no” votes on the rule changes. Fellow Republican Commissioner Justin Olson, who was not up for re-election in this cycle, was the second. And Jim O’Connor would likely be a third against the progressive rule changes as they were voted on last week. 

Early Tuesday night, when Democrats came out strong to lead the six-way race, commission regulars were quick to connect the results to public controversy over Arizona Public Service; the state’s largest public electric utility has spent millions in past elections to back its preferred — often Republican — commission candidates, a practice APS has said it will not continue under new leadership. 

Marquez Peterson saw the results Wednesday morning in a similar light, but from the other side of the political spectrum.  

“I don’t think how the votes are determined at this point are a reaction to APS, honestly,” she told KJZZ early Wednesday morning. “I think it’s a response to the $6 million in independent expenditures that Sierra Club and Chispa (Arizona) put -- and Bloomberg -- put in place to promote the Democrat names.”

In the same way APS has been said to have bought candidates on the commission, Marquez Peterson says it looked as though Democrats were trying to buy this race -- and the majority. 

Marquez Peterson was appointed to her seat by Gov. Doug Ducey in 2019. O’Connor qualified for the general election ballot after staging a successful write-in campaign to keep Democrats from easily claiming the majority on the commission.

Had O’Connor not qualified for the ballot, Democrats likely would have claimed two seats; the third Republican in the race, Eric Sloan, was behind in the race all night and remains in fifth as of Wednesday afternoon.

Commissioner Sandra Kennedy is currently the sole Democratic regulator. Tovar is likely to join her, as she still holds a comfortable lead, but the gap between O’Connor and Bill Mundell — a former commissioner who previously served as a Republican for more than a decade — is growing. Democrat Shea Stanfield has fallen to the back of the pack behind Sloan.

12:34 p.m.

Democrats have lost their early advantage in the race for three open seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar, a Democrat, is maintaining her lead, but her fellow Democrats steadily fell behind as Tuesday night carried on.

Incumbent Republican Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson eventually caught up, as did Republican Jim O’Connor. They’re currently holding onto the second- and third-place slots.

Early Tuesday night, when Democrats came out strong to lead the six-way race, commission regulars were quick to connect the results to public controversy over Arizona Public Service; the state’s largest public electric utility has spent millions in past elections to back its preferred — often Republican — commission candidates, a practice APS has said it will not continue under new leadership. 

Marquez Peterson saw the results Wednesday morning in a similar light, but from the other side of the political spectrum.  

“I don’t think how the votes are determined at this point are a reaction to APS, honestly,” she told KJZZ early Wednesday morning. “I think it’s a response to the $6 million in independent expenditures that Sierra Club and Chispa (Arizona) put — and Bloomberg — put in place to promote the Democrat names.”

In the same way APS has been said to have bought candidates on the commission, Marquez Peterson says it looked as though Democrats were trying to buy this race — and the majority. 

Marquez Peterson was appointed to her seat by Gov. Doug Ducey in 2019. O’Connor qualified for the general election ballot after staging a successful write-in campaign to keep Democrats from easily claiming the majority on the commission.

Commission Chair Bob Burns, a Republican albeit one who has been a combative foe for APS, will term out of his seat after this election. And Republican Commissioner Boyd Dunn failed to qualify for the ballot, leaving his seat open and vulnerable. 

Had O’Connor not qualified for the ballot, Democrats likely would have claimed two seats; the third Republican in the race, Eric Sloan, was behind in the race all night and remains in fifth as of Wednesday afternoon.

Commissioner Sandra Kennedy is currently the sole Democratic regulator. Tovar is likely to join her, as she still holds a comfortable lead, but the gap between O’Connor and Democrat Bill Mundell -- a former commissioner who previously served as a Republican for more than a decade — is growing. Democrat Shea Stanfield has fallen to the back of the pack behind Sloan.

7:30 a.m.

Democrats have lost their early advantage in the race for three open seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar, a Democrat, is maintaining her lead, but her fellow Democrats steadily fell behind as Tuesday night carried on.

Incumbent Republican Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson eventually caught up, as did Republican Jim O’Connor. They’re currently holding onto the second and third place slots.

Marquez Peterson was appointed to her seat by Gov. Doug Ducey in 2019. O’Connor qualified for the general election ballot after staging a successful write-in campaign to keep Democrats from easily claiming the majority on the commission.

Commissioner Sandra Kennedy is currently the sole Democratic regulator. Tovar is likely to join her, but the gap between O’Connor and Democrat Bill Mundell is growing. Democrat Shea Stanfield has fallen to the back of the pack behind Republican Eric Sloan.

1:33 a.m.

Democrats started the night strong in the race for three open Arizona Corporation Commission seats, adding to the party’s early edge in contests up and down the ballot.

As of 1 a.m. Wednesday, Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar, also a former Democratic state senator, maintained her lead in the race. Democrats Shea Stanfield and former Commissioner Bill Mundell initially followed close behind; Mundell previously served on the commission as a Republican for a decade but is now running as a Democrat, a move he has blamed on public controversy surrounding Republican commission candidates and Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest public electric utility. 

Court Rich of the Renewable Energy Department for Rose Law Group and the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association board is a familiar face at the commission. He was quick to connect APS’s past dealings in commission races to Democrats’ early lead; he spoke to KJZZ earlier in the evening, when Democrats held the lead for all three seats up for grabs.

“You know, I think this is clearly just a reaction to a decade of APS overplaying its hand at the Corporation Commission and getting involved in politics and picking its preferred commissioners,” he said. “And this is kind of the end result of that.”

But Republican incumbent Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson — who was appointed to her seat by Gov. Doug Ducey in 2019 — crept up in the ranks throughout the night. She held the second-place slot as of 1 a.m. And Republican Jim O’Connor, who waged a successful write-in campaign to qualify for the general election ballot, made a comeback late into the night; he sat in third place as of 1 a.m. with Mundell close behind.

Republicans will need both Marquez Peterson and O’Connor to win if they’re going to keep the GOP majority at the commission.

Commission Chair Bob Burns, a Republican albeit one who has been a combative foe for APS, will term out of his seat after this election. And Republican Commissioner Boyd Dunn failed to qualify for the ballot, leaving his seat open and vulnerable. 

Commissioner Sandra Kennedy is currently the sole Democratic regulator, but if Tovar and Mundell manage to claim victory, Democrats will hold the majority. And that could mean significant changes in terms of the state’s approach to renewable energy.

Just days before the election, commissioners voted to require utilities to get all of their energy from carbon-free sources by 2050. Marquez Peterson was one of two “no” votes; Republican Commissioner Justin Olson also voted against the new rule. 

Marquez Peterson’s Democratic challengers would almost certainly be more amenable to such renewable-friendly measures. 

And it’s that likelihood that had Rich anticipating Democrat gains.

“You know, everybody knows that renewable energy is popular and has always been popular,” he said. “That’s a good thing for the state, and the voters obviously picked up on that.”

But the results have changed throughout the night, leaving Democrats holding their breath.

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