GOP Keeps Control Of Arizona Corporation Commission

By Will Stone
Published: Wednesday, November 9, 2016 - 4:18pm
Updated: Thursday, November 10, 2016 - 10:43am
(Photo by Howard Fischer - Capitol Media Services)
Commissioner Bob Burns campaigned on his efforts to reveal the source of dark money spending in 2014. Now he has accused another commissioner of possible "misconduct."

Republicans held onto their control of one of Arizona’s most powerful regulatory agencies.

Arizona Corporation Commission incumbents Bob Burns and Andy Tobin clinched first and second places respectively. The third open seat went to former judge and Chandler mayor Boyd Dunn.

The two Democrats, Bill Mundell and Tom Chabin, mounted an aggressive campaign, hoping to change the dynamics of the five-person commission. Ultimately, Mundell, who has previously served as a Republican commissioner, trailed Dunn by about 30,000 votes in what was a big turnout day for Republicans in the state.

Despite the commission’s broad powers over the energy sector in the state, the campaign focused overwhelmingly on one issue: "dark money" and the question of possible outside influence over commissioners.

“If one utility is able to get involved in campaigns without reporting,” Burns said on Wednesday. “I think the rest of the utilities will come to the point where they just say we have to look out for our interests, also.”

Burns has led the effort to force APS and its parent company Pinnacle West to disclose whether it was behind alleged "dark money" spending to help get two commissioners elected in 2014. Ironically, Burns benefited from more than $2 million from political action committees tied to Solar City and APS.

“I think that just puts a bad taste in the public’s mouth,” Burns said, but conceded he has no ability to stop those independent expenditures because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Commissioner Tobin, a former speaker of the Arizona House, won his first full term after being appointed to the commission at the beginning of the year by Gov. Doug Ducey.

The pro-utility PAC backed Tobin and the two others Republicans in the race. Meanwhile, the Solar City funded PAC spent heavily to elect the two democrats and Bob Burns, as well.

“The Solar City program turned out to be more about being Democrat and Republican than it did about solar. It’s just so absurd,” Tobin said.

Tobin pointed out he has worked to preserve solar on the commission by grandfathering net-metering and being critical of a controversial rate scheme proposed by APS called a “demand charge.”

Tobin and Burns have been at odds over his efforts to uncover APS’ alleged dark money spending.

“It’s unfortunate the direction [Burns] is going is not a Republican stance.  It’s not that people don’t want disclosure. I think people want equal disclosure,” Tobin said.

However, Tobin added that he believes the two of them can work together despite their disagreements.

In response, Burns said that his position on APS stems from its status as a regulated monopoly instead of a private corporation.

“They are completely different animals,” Burns said.

While the solar industry only got one of its preferred candidates, Kris Mayes, chair of Save Our AZ Solar, said she’s “optimistic” the three elected commissioners will preserve solar.

Save Our AZ Solar had listed Tobin as one of the four pro-solar candidates, and Mayes said she believes the candidates will make decisions without the influence of APS.

“I don’t think this is about APS winning the election. At the end of the day, these three commissioners are going to do a good job,” Mayes said.

The newly elected Republicans join commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little. In the coming year, the commission will face big decisions, including the future of solar policies like net-metering, not to mention a proposed rate hike from APS.