Democrats prevail in two PRC races, amendment approved

Cynthia Hall, left, and Joseph Maestas have been elected to fill the two Public Regulation Commission seats up for grabs.

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Democrats Joseph Maestas and Cynthia Hall prevailed in the two Public Regulation Commission races on the Nov. 3 ballot, according to unofficial returns.

Incumbent Cynthia Hall took 59% of the vote, defeating Republican candidate Janice Arnold-Jones by 19 percentage points in the race for District 1 in central New Mexico.

And in District 3 in northern New Mexico, Joseph Maestas bested Libertarian Party candidate Chris Luchini with 71% of the votes.

Meanwhile, a constitutional amendment to turn the PRC into a three-member commission appointed by the governor was approved, with 55% of voters supporting the overhaul. The PRC is currently an elected body with five commissioners representing distinct regions around the state.

With the amendment’s passage, term periods for the winning candidates in this year’s two district races will be cut from four to two years, ending in 2022, when the governor will replace all five elected commissioners with appointed ones to serve six-year terms starting in 2023.

New Mexico’s Legislature approved the proposed amendment in 2019, supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, to “depoliticize” the PRC, which has clashed repeatedly with the governor and legislators over various issues, in particular implementation of the state’s Energy Transition Act. That law requires public utilities to convert the electric grid to 100% renewable energy and carbon-free generation by 2045. The PRC must oversee the transition, including the shutdown of fossil fuel facilities, choosing energy resources to replace them, and balancing consumer and utility interests when setting rates.

Both candidates who prevailed in the two PRC races fully support the energy law.

Hall, who was first elected to the District 1 seat in 2016, said she sought reelection primarily to continue pursuing clean energy development in New Mexico.

“I want to continue serving the people of New Mexico and will work hard for a successful energy transition,” Hall said.

An engineer, Maestas has worked 30 years for federal agencies. He also served 14 years as a city councilor in Española and Santa Fe, and as Española mayor from 2006 to 2010.

“I think voters responded to my message,” Maestas said after polls closed. “They want someone with elected experience, technical qualifications consistent with the business that comes before the PRC, and a solid record in resolving problems.”

Experience and knowledge in regulatory affairs are critical for commissioners. The PRC’s decisions affect consumers across the board. They set utility rates for everything from electric, water and gas services to telecommunications and transportation.

Hall supports the constitutional amendment as a way to ensure that nonpolitical, highly qualified professionals are appointed to the PRC, rather than politicians who may lack the technical skills needed to serve on the commission.

Maestas, however, opposed the amendment.

“It’s undemocratic to ask voters to remove their own voice and choice to select representatives,” Maestas said. “But if it passes and I serve for just two years, I’ll still give my all to represent all New Mexicans at the PRC.”

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