I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Lyons, Hall, Becenti-Aguilar win seats on PRC
Two Republicans and one Democrat took three open Public Regulation Commission (PRC) seats that were up for election Tuesday.
Lyons convincingly defeated Democratic opponent Stephanie DuBois 20,806 votes (68.7 percent) to 9,458 (31.3 percent) according to unofficial Secretary of State returns as of 8:59 p.m. Tuesday.
Hall defeated populist consumer and ethics advocate Bill McCamley with the Secretary of State’s office reporting unofficial returns of 25,136 votes (47.8 percent) for McCamley and 27,348 votes (52.2 percent) for Hall at 8:59 p.m.
Becenti-Aguilar, the Commission’s only Native American and woman, defeated Montoya, a Shiprock Republican who aligned himself with the tea party, 54,934 (54.2 percent) to Montoya’s 46,329 (45.8 percent).
Like McCamley, Becenti-Aguilar had run on a consumer protection platform, pledging close scrutiny of utility and insurance rate hikes.
The PRC regulates the utilities and transportation industries, and oversees the state Corporations Commission, the state Pipeline Safety Bureau and the semi-autonomous Fire Marshal’s office and Division of Insurance.
The troubled Commission has been plagued by public controversies and scandals.
The Commission’s newcomers will have to hit the ground running in January. They will face daunting challenges, including ethics and structural reform efforts, and a call by some legislators to do away with their agency altogether. The Government Restructuring Task Force has drafted a constitutional amendment and companion legislation that would abolish the PRC, and reassign its various regulatory bureaus and divisions to other executive-branch agencies.
District 2: Patrick Lyons
Outgoing state land commissioner Patrick Lyons will replace outgoing PRC chairman David King as the representative for PRC District 2, which covers much of central and southeastern N.M.
Lyons ran on ethics reform at the Commission, including closer PRC scrutiny of contracting practices by its semi-autonomous Division of Insurance. However, at the helm of the State Land Office, he faced a protracted State Auditor’s Office investigation of land swaps he had approved.
Lyons ran a privately-funded campaign against the publicly-funded campaign of Tularosa businesswoman Stephanie DuBois, who previously ran unsuccessfully against King.
Lyons has called for the Commission to make staff hiring and firing decisions, he said.
“All the hiring, pay increases – that should go through the Commission,” Lyons said. “Every position posted should come before the Commission for a vote. The division directors could narrow it down to five people and the commissioners would interview them and make a decision. If you let the supervisors pick, you have too many people doing all the hiring.”
DuBois was clearly disappointed and did not hesitate to condemn Lyons as “a crook,” Friday night.
“I think we’re going to see everything, every rate raised arbitrarily now,” DuBois told The Independent. “Republicans don’t care about consumers. Consumers are absolutely the losers in this election. They really missed an opportunity to have a strong advocate on the PRC. If they wanted a crook, I think they got one.”
District 4: Theresa Becenti-Aguilar
Theresa Becenti-Aguilar defeated tea party Republican Gary Montoya in the race for the PRC’s District 4 seat, to represent north-central and northwestern N.M., including the N.M. portion of the Navajo Nation.
Montoya had run on the most industry-friendly platform of any of the three PRC races, repeatedly questioning overzealous PRC “micromanaging” of the state’s utility monopolies and the Division of Insurance.
Becenti-Aguilar, a Navajo, is the Commission’s only woman and Native American. She ran on a strong consumer-protection platform, declaring even at a PNM-sponsored shareholder’s forum that she would stand with consumers against unreasonable rate hikes by the electrical and insurance industries.
Becenti-Aguilar was appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson in July, after the state Supreme Court removed predecessor Carol Sloan from office.
Sloan was conviction on two felony charges stemming from her physical attack on a woman she believed to have been having an affair with her husband. Convicted felons cannot hold elected office in New Mexico.
District 5: Ben Hall
Former Republican state legislator Ben Hall will replace outgoing District 5′s Democratic Commissioner Sandy Jones as the Commission’s representative for a wide swath of southwestern N.M.
Both men had pledged to clean up the Commission. McCamley had pledged strong consumer protections and ethics reforms at the Commission, and took Hall to task for refusing to publicly debate him during the campaign. McCamley called for the creation of an independent task force to review the PRC’s mission and recommend ethics and structural reforms.
“If I am the victor, I certainly appreciate the voters who supported me,” Hall said at 9 p.m. Tuesday. “I think the PRC needs to get its own house in order before it can tell others what to do.”
McCamley acknowledged his prospects for victory were bleak but was not ready to concede the race at 9:02 p.m.
“Republican voters voted a straight party ticket,” McCamley noted. “Democratic voters didn’t vote all the way down the ticket, especially in Valencia County.”
McCamley would not comment further on his race against Hall.