Now the jostling for political position can really begin.
On Thursday, Susan Bitter Smith announced her resignation from the Arizona Corporation Commission, effective Jan. 4. As you may recall, on Nov. 30 Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a request with the state Supreme Court that she be removed from office.
Now that Bitter Smith has done that dirty work herself — while rejecting Brnovich’s legal reasoning — Gov. Doug Ducey gets the opportunity to appoint someone to what could be a plum political position. The five corporation commissioners make $79,500 per year for what was in the past a rather mundane elected job — principally, regulating the energy and water companies in Arizona.
These days the job is trickier because of dark-money contributions to Corporation Commission campaigns and the fight between traditional utilities and rooftop-solar interests. Commissioner Bob Stump has accused rooftop-solar advocates of “McCarthyism” for publishing the phone numbers of people whom he texted and asking the public whose numbers they are. The whole commission has been under some sort of investigation.
All that said, it’s still a good job for someone with political aspirations and a wonky mind. It’s also a great way for Ducey to either reward someone who has been a strong political ally or launch a career that could benefit him and the Republican Party. The appointee will have to run for office next year and will have a leg up on the competition.
One drawback: The next term would be the last one that person could serve, due to term limits.
I would not be surprised to see Ducey name a person from Southern Arizona. He’s traveled to the Tucson area often and seems to remember in his day-to-day governing that we exist. Also, none of the current commissioners is from this region.
Here are a half-dozen Republicans from the Tucson area whom I could imagine Ducey appointing to the Arizona Corporation Commission. The top few I consider more likely than the lower few.
Ted Vogt. A former state representative, Vogt lost in 2012, when he had to run in a new district with a higher proportion of Democrats. After that loss, in 2013, then-Gov. Jan Brewer appointed him as head of the state’s Department of Veterans Services.
Ducey appointed a new head of that department and made Vogt his chief of operations, a job he’s served in for about a year. That gives him the inside track to the seat if he’s interested.
Lea Marquez Peterson. The head of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Marquez Peterson was an early endorser of Ducey when he was a candidate. Then she played a prominent role in his transition and has also acted as a volunteer in many of his initiatives as governor.
Marquez Peterson was surprised Thursday when I asked her if she would entertain the idea of an appointment to the commission, something she said she hadn’t thought of. But she didn’t reject the idea.
Jonathan Paton. A former state legislator and member of the Rio Nuevo board, Paton most recently lost a race for U.S. House. Since that loss in 2012, he’s made a life for himself as a political consultant in Phoenix and has remained close to some of Ducey’s aides, such as Chief of Staff Kirk Adams and spokesman Daniel Scarpinato, also a Tucsonan.
On the downside, Paton’s wife, Angela, is a staff member at the commission already. So that would make appointing him complicated.
Juan Ciscomani. As I wrote in a May profile of him, Ciscomani has quickly risen in prominence as an aide to Ducey. An Hermosillo, Sonora native, Ciscomani is Ducey’s Southern Arizona director, with an office in Tucson, and also oversees the state’s Hermosillo office.
He ran for state house in 2008 and lost and was employed by the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce before Ducey hired him. On the downside for his chances, Ciscomani would be hard for Ducey to replace.
Al Melvin. Also a former legislator, Melvin is already running for Arizona Corporation Commission in 2016 and therefore has studied up on the issues. He’s a conservative Republican from SaddleBrooke who supported the idea of storing nuclear waste in Arizona as a way to make money from the federal government.
On the downside, Melvin’s appointment wouldn’t make that much political sense, because he’s not particularly close to Ducey and is a septuagenarian whose political career is probably not in ascent.
Mike Boyd. You probably haven’t heard Boyd talked about as a political candidate for years, but Boyd could make sense as an appointee. A former TV newsman and Pima County supervisor, Boyd has spent many of the intervening years working for clean-energy companies, so he’s familiar with both politics and the issues that occupy the commission’s time.
However, Boyd isn’t particularly close to Ducey, either, and doesn’t offer the governor’s team a lot of political benefits as an appointee.