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Two PRC seats up for election in November

Brian Harris and Joseph Maestas will face off in the June 2 primaries for the Democratic Party nomination to the Public Regulation Commission’s District 3 seat in northern New Mexico.

It’s the only contested PRC race in the primaries, which also includes nominations for the District 1 seat in central New Mexico.

In the District 3 race, whoever wins the democratic primary will compete against Libertarian Party candidate Orlando Archuleta, who is seeking his party’s nomination on June 2 with no Republican candidates on the ballot for November.

First-term Democratic incumbent Cynthia Hall is seeking re-election to the District 1 seat with no other Democratic primary contenders. Republican Janice Arnold Jones is seeking her party’s nomination as well with no contenders, meaning she and Hall will face off in the November elections.

There are some big issues at stake for the PRC, a five-member body that regulates everything from utilities and telecommunications to transportation companies and the Pipeline Safety Bureau.

Brian Harris

The election could influence PRC implementation of the state’s new Energy Transition Act, which requires public utilities to convert the grid to 80% renewable energy by 2040 and to completely carbon-free generation by 2045. The PRC must oversee much of the transition, including the shutdown of fossil fuel facilities, choosing energy resources to replace them, and balancing consumer and utility interests when setting rates.

It could also influence efforts to reform the PRC, something Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders are pursuing. In fact, voters will be asked in November to approve or reject a constitutional amendment that would transform the commission from a five-member elected body into a three-member regulatory entity appointed by the governor.

Harris and Maestas both support the Energy Transition Act. But the two sharply diverge on PRC reform. Harris supports the constitutional amendment, while Maestas wants to transform the commission from within.

Joseph Maestas

“Our democracy is under threat so I can’t support the removal of voters’ voice in selecting their PRC commissioners whose decisions affect their daily lives,” Maestas wrote in response to a Journal questionnaire.

Maestas said the PRC needs appropriate leadership to staff the commission with qualified professionals who can work well with the governor and legislators.

In contrast, Harris said the PRC needs to replace politicians with appointed professionals who have needed technical expertise in areas regulated by the commission.

“The main test for a politician is getting elected, and that’s not a skill that helps at the commission,” he said. “I believe a lot of scandals and poor decisions that have occurred at the PRC in recent years is because of that.”

PRC reform is a hot-button issue, given the commission’s recent conflicts with the governor and legislators, who successfully petitioned the Supreme Court this year to force the PRC to fully comply with the new energy law after some commissioners failed to uphold certain clauses. The governor and legislators also unsuccessfully sought to transition many PRC functions to executive oversight this year.

Both candidates say their backgrounds uniquely qualify them to serve at the PRC.

Harris is a lawyer who has worked with regulatory bodies for nearly 30 years, including a two- year stint from 2003-2004 as a staff economist at the PRC.

Maestas, an engineer, served as mayor of EspaƱola and as a city councilor in EspaƱola and Santa Fe.

Maestas qualified for about $39,000 in public financing for the primaries. Harris has independently raised about $20,000.

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