ARIZONA CORPORATION COMMISSION

Arizona Corporation Commission: GOP slate sweeps the race, ousts two Dems

2012-11-07T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:23:21Z Arizona Corporation Commission: GOP slate sweeps the race, ousts two DemsDavid Wichner Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Republicans swept the race for three seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission as voters jettisoned two Democratic incumbents to make the utility panel an all-GOP body for the first time since 2009.

Incumbent Republican Commissioner Bob Stump, former Senate President Bob Burns and cable-industry executive Susan Bitter-Smith won four-year terms on the five-member panel.

The newcomers and Stump will join Commission Chairman Gary Pierce and Commissioner Brenda Burns to create a commission made up of mostly conservative Republicans.

Democratic incumbents Paul Newman and Sandra Kennedy ran with political newcomer Marcia Busching on a "Solar Team" ticket, advocating an increase in the state renewable-energy mandate, citing higher standards in other states.

A similar strategy worked for the Democrats in 2008, when Newman and Kennedy became the first Democrats to be elected to the ACC in nearly a decade.

But this time, the Republicans topped the Democrats in a race in which the top three vote-getters won election.

The new commission also will be made up entirely of members from Maricopa County, as Tucson resident Newman was the only non-Maricopa commissioner.

Much of the campaign centered on support for solar and other renewable energy sources. An all-Republican commission adopted the current standard in 2006, requiring state-regulated utilities to generate power equal to 15 percent of their retail sales from renewable sources by 2025.

The GOP candidates said they would keep the standard as is and increase it only after studying the long-term costs.

Burns said his main priority was to keep utility rates low to avoid damaging the fragile economy.

Bitter-Smith, a longtime cable industry executive and past president of the Central Arizona Project board, ran largely on a platform of reforming regulation of small water companies to make it easier to adjust rates to avoid insolvency or huge rate increases.

Newman could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Stump, in line to be the next chairman, said the election shows that ratepayers want regulators to keep costs down even as they want more renewable energy.

"I think Arizonans want clean energy, but they also want affordable energy," said Stump, adding that he expects the new commission to keep the current renewable-energy standard.

Stump said the lack of a Southern Arizona member on the commission doesn't mean the region's interests will suffer, noting that he lived in Tucson for a decade and his mother still lives here. "I'm certainly committed to ensuring that Southern Arizona has a voice, and I'm confident my colleagues feel the same way," Stump said.

The commission will decide a pending rate case filed by Tucson Electric Power Co., which seeks a 15 percent base rate increase.

Contact David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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