Arizona governor hires utility regulator, taps replacement
PHOENIX (AP) — Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday named an elected member of Arizona’s utility regulation commission to run a large state department and replaced him with a southern Arizona woman who formerly ran a chamber of commerce group and ran for congress last year.
Ducey appointed Republican Andy Tobin to run the Department of Administration and replaced him on the Arizona Corporation Commission with Republican Lea Marquez Peterson . Marquez Peterson was the longtime president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and lost her bid for Congress last year in a race won by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick.
The moves come at a time when Tobin and two other commissioners were boosting pressure on the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service Co. The commission is considering requiring APS to file a new case to review its power rates.
The political action committee of APS’s parent company contributed $2,500 to Marquez Peterson’s campaign last year. She also received $5,000 from the CEO of Tucson Electric Power and more from others affiliated with that utility.
The corporation commission oversees utilities that are granted monopolies to provide power, gas or water services. It approves rates that are designed to return a fair profit without gouging customers.
APS has been embroiled in controversy for several years after suspected political spending in the 2014 commission election and political activity it acknowledged in more recent elections. The utility recently acknowledged it spent $3.2 million to elect favored regulators in 2014 and gave an accounting of its later political spending, including $4.1 million to influence its regulators’ 2016 election and nearly $40 million to defeat a citizens’ initiative last year that would have required that it get much more of its power from solar and other renewable sources.
The commission is currently reviewing APS rates approved in 2017 that have been met with consumer complaints. The commissioners met Thursday morning without Tobin or Marquez Peterson to consider whether to have APS file a new rate-setting case. She was sworn in at about noon on Thursday.
Ducey has tapped Tobin multiple times since he left the Legislature after the 2014 session. The Republican ran the Weights and Measures department, then the insurance and financial services departments before Ducey appointed him to an open Corporation Commission seat in early 2016. Tobin was elected to a four-year term in November 2016.
“I’m thrilled to be able to bring Andy back into our administration,” Ducey said in a statement. “His passion for public service is unmatched and his understanding of state regulatory and administrative policy will serve the Department of Administration well as we continue to streamline and improve government.”
The Department of Administration oversees a vast range of business services for the state, including personnel, medical benefits, buildings and information technology. Tobin will get a big raise for taking the job, going from an annual salary of $79,500 as an elected commissioner to $195,000 as department director.
Ducey praised Marquez Peterson for bringing “a unique and important voice,” to the commission and said she had a wealth of experience.
“As an entrepreneur, she knows firsthand the challenges businesses face navigating a complex government bureaucracy, and will bring a fresh perspective on the commission,” Ducey said. “I’m grateful for her willingness to serve.”
In an interview, Marquez Peterson said she’s prepared to quickly jump into the complexities of utility regulation. She also downplayed the utility contributions she received while running for congress.
“I think this is something that is certainly not going to influence any decisions that I make in the future as a commissioner,” she said. “And I worked with many citizens and many different businesses in that campaign to gain support to run for that seat, which unfortunately I wasn’t successful at. But I don’t think in any way it hinders my performance at the ACC.”
Former Democratic commissioner Bill Mundell said Marquez Peterson “is deep in the pockets” of APS as a recipient of campaign money and a supporter of APS positions while at the chamber.
“Of all the unbiased and qualified people in Arizona that Ducey could have appointed, he picked an APS lobbyist that I’m concerned will do the bidding of APS when she gets to the commission,” Mundell said.
Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper and Jacques Billeaud contributed.