Journal endorsements in the general election continue today with the two contested seats on the Public Regulation Commission. PRC commissioner is an elected position that affects New Mexicans’ wallets daily, yet many voters know little to nothing about the commission or its members. The PRC regulates utilities, telecommunications and motor carriers – everything from taxis and limousines to ambulances and shuttle services. When your electric or natural gas company wants to raise your rates, it has to go before the PRC to justify it. If a towing company appears to be charging too much, the PRC has jurisdiction over it. If an ambulance company wants to set up shop in – or pull out of — your community, it needs to go before the PRC.
The core responsibility of a PRC commissioner is to regulate these businesses for a win-win outcome for consumers and the businesses alike. Customers need reliable service and fair rates; companies need stability and a fair rate of return to continue operating. Lean too far in either direction and you have upset the delicate balance that ensures affordable power goes on with the flip of a switch.
District 2 – Kevin J. Sanders
District 2 covers nearly the entire eastern half of the state, including Las Vegas, Santa Rosa, Tucumcari, Clovis, Portales, Roswell, Artesia, Hobbs and Carlsbad. Democrat Kevin J. Sanders, an Albuquerque attorney and East Mountain resident, has worked in private practice, for the FCC and in the PRC’s legal division. He has experience unpacking issues as complex as Social Security appeals and net neutrality, and he understands the PRC’s role in rulemaking and ratemaking and that regulation should be fact-based and nonpartisan.
Sanders says he would work to increase transparency at the PRC. “We need to change the mentality, be more open.” In that vein, he rejects imposing a charge for hearing transcripts because “it’s wildly inefficient and hurts the people trying to be active. The bigger issue is a closed process … undermines public confidence.”
Sanders believes PRC priorities should include increasing internet access via affordable broadband to rural communities, setting up the state’s electric grid for the next 50 years, and getting national grants and expertise while collaborating with states that have broken new ground, i.e. Texas on deregulation and Hawaii and Massachusetts on renewables.
Sanders has vowed to work to ensure “all the moving pieces” of economies and technologies work together while building consensus around the myriad issues that come before the PRC. The Journal recommends District 2 voters put his cool head, and his legal and regulatory experience, on the PRC.
District 5 – Stephen H. Fischmann
District 5 covers most of the southwest quarter of the state, including Las Cruces, Silver City, Truth or Consequences, Deming and Lordsburg. Democrat Stephen H. Fischmann served as a state senator from 2009-13, and during that term took on El Paso Electric in a rate case, demanding it be based on more than “tenuous assumptions” and “poor plans for a direction forward.” He says he succeeded in getting the rate request reduced substantially.
And he credits much of that success as well as his plans for the PRC to his “healthy skepticism.” His experience and education include 25 years as an executive at Levi Strauss and earning an MBA from UCLA. “Clearly there are focus, management and mission issues that need fixing,” he says “That’s my career. I can get a lot done there.”
Fischmann says he would focus on protecting consumers, keeping utilities healthy enough to serve, and moving to competitive models that “take a load off regulation and let the market drive things.” His top priorities include bringing renewables, storage, and grid management expertise onto the PRC staff, as well as requiring cost analysis of alternatives on investment approvals.
Fischmann understands the PRC and the state need to adapt and adopt a vision forward as the energy marketplace evolves, and it is essential he incorporate a focus on balancing consumer and business interests. The Journal recommends PRC District 5 voters pick Stephen H. Fischmann.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.