The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission will look very different in January, when three of the five commission seats change hands.
The June primary elections already determined a replacement for Lynda Lovejoy, the current Democratic commissioner for District 4 in northwestern New Mexico. Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, a former commissioner who left office in 2014, won the Democratic primary there, making her de facto victor in November, as no Republican is running.
But two Republicans and two Democrats are running in southwest District 5 and eastern District 2.
Sharp differences divide the District 5 candidates, where former Democratic state senator Stephen Fischmann is facing Ben L. Hall, a former PRC commissioner who lost his seat in 2014 to current Democratic commissioner Sandy Jones.
But Jones lost this year’s Democratic nomination to Fischmann in a heated primary that had environmental and consumer-oriented political action committees spending heavily in Fischmann’s favor and a new PAC backed by PNM Resources running ads against him.
If Fischmann wins in November, his aggressive support for renewable energy and consumer advocacy could foreshadow a progressive regulatory bloc at the PRC, where he would join current Democratic commissioners Valeria Espinoza from northern District 3 and Cynthia Hall from central District 1.
“I’m a passionate consumer advocate,” Fischmann told the Journal. “There are ripoffs all over, and I like ending them…We need to be fair to folks.”
Fischmann wants to create a comprehensive data base on prices and challenges related to energy to eliminate biased slants when comparing renewables with fossil fuels.
“That would get everyone talking on the same page with proper analysis upfront from utilities,” Fischmann said.
Hall said Fischmann ignores the true costs of alternative energy.
“The transition must be done in steps to not jeopardize power supplies or push bills so high people can’t afford it,” Hall said. “We still need fossil fuels like natural gas and nuclear energy going forward.”
Hall said commissioners need to do more to balance interests. “They’re not representing the public like they should, and sometimes they’re not regulating utilities like they should.”
In District 2, Republican rancher and environmental engineer Jefferson
Byrd is facing Democratic attorney Kevin Sanders. Neither has held public office before, although Byrd did run for the U.S. 3rd Congressional District House seat in 2012 and 2014 against Ben Ray Lujan, Democrat-NM.
Byrd wants to reduce government regulation for businesses to create jobs and services.
“The big thing (at the PRC) is to regulate electric and other utilities to make sure prices are fair and services are reliable,” Byrd said.
For Sanders, competence and integrity and key.
“Many different interests come to the table at the PRC, and the commission needs to balance them,” Sanders said. “The commission has had chronic problems when it comes to professionalism and ethics, and we need to confront that.”
Q-and-A’s online: To find out most candidates’ positions on key issues, go to ABQJournal.com/election2018. The site also includes links to Journal stories on statewide, legislative and county-level races, district maps, key election dates and other voter resources. It will be updated regularly with new candidate profile stories and other information.