Kristin Mayes, who will become the fifth woman to serve on the Arizona Corporation Commission, says she will be an “unflinching” advocate for consumers when she replaces Jim Irvin, who resigned under fire Sept. 23.
Ms. Mayes, whose last day as Governor Napolitano’s communications director was Oct. 3, said she expects to be sworn in Oct. 6. She was hand picked by the governor to replace Mr. Irvin, who is the subject of a House investigation and possible criminal charges regarding his involvement in a proposed utility company purchase.
“The governor asked me to take it on,” said Ms. Mayes, 32, “and I could not turn it down. I discussed it at length with her.”
Her new job pays $79,500, $10,000 less than her salary as the governor’s spokeswoman.
Ms. Mayes, a Republican, was Ms. Napolitano’s first and only choice, said spokesman Paul Allvin, who has been promoted to Ms. Mayes’s job as the governor’s communications director. He said the governor did not interview anyone other than Ms. Mayes.
“She knew who she wanted,” Mr. Allvin said.
Ms. Napolitano said it was important to have “a commissioner with roots from outside Maricopa County.” Ms. Mayes is a Prescott native.
Whether she serves Mr. Irvin’s entire term, which runs through 2006, depends on whether she can win election to it next year. The appointment is good only through 2004; state law requires in these cases that the appointee stand for election to the balance of the term at the next general election. She told Arizona Capitol Times she wasn’t going to “speculate” on whether she would run for the office.
“Politics will take care of itself,” she said. Whether she runs or not, the Irvin resignation means the 2004 general election ballot will include a two-year Corporation Commission term.
Four other women have served on the Corporation Commission in its 91-year history. They are: Diane McCarthy, Republican, 1983-1984; Marianne Jennings, Republican, 1984; Sharon Megdal, 1985-1986; and Marcia Weeks, Democrat, 1985-1996.
Ms. Mayes was a political reporter for The Arizona Republic and its sister paper, the now defunct Phoenix Gazette, and she completed law school this past spring at ASU, where she received the Sandra Day O’Connor Award for excellence in constitutional law studies. She said she has been told unofficially that she has passed the State Bar exam.
Ms. Mayes says her journalistic background and law training will serve her well as a corporation commissioner. “The governor was looking for someone to ask tough questions and be a consumer advocate,” she said. “As a reporter, I was trained to be unflinching in asking tough questions.”
She agreed that her appointment has been a surprise to political observers, none of whom had her on their radar, but, she said, “I hope folks will look at my background and be supportive.”
Commissioner Jeff Hatch-Miller said he is looking forward to working with Ms. Mayes.
“She’s intelligent and has the potential to do a good job,” he said. “I’m in full support.”
Using a line from House Minority Leader John Loredo, D-Dist. 13, who recently was accused of politicking for a seat on the commission, Commissioner Mike Gleason said Ms. Mayes “is in for a boring time” sitting between him and Commissioner Marc Spitzer.
He said he sent Ms. Mayes a message welcoming her to the commission.
Ms. Mayes said she faces a “steep learning curve” on the commission and will be “ramping up” for the job. One of her top priorities, she said, will be pipeline safety, an issue that filled the front pages in July after the rupture of a Kinder Morgan pipeline in north Tucson created gasoline shortages and long lines at pumps in the Valley.
The Corporation Commission is best known for regulating utility companies, but it also has some oversight over pipelines in the state.
Former state legislators Roberta Voss, who lost to Mr. Irvin in the 2002 Republican primary, and Tom Freestone had expressed interest in a seat on the commission. Others, including Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano; Jack Jewett, a former legislator and member of the Board of Regents, and Phoenix City Councilwoman Peggy Bilsten had been mentioned as possible appointees but had told reporters they were not interested.
Faced with possible impeachment proceedings, Mr. Irvin, a Republican who had served on the commission since 1997, resigned Sept. 23, saying he intends to sue the state to recover legal costs and to require the state to pay a big judgment assessed against him by a federal jury in a civil case.
That jury decided last December that Mr. Irvin had interfered in the proposed purchase of Southwest Gas Co. by Southern Union Co. and ordered him to pay $390,072 in compensatory damages and $60 million in punitive damages.
Mr. Irvin’s resignation ended all talk of impeachment, but special House counsel Melvin McDonald, hired for the impeachment inquiry, said his investigation of Mr. Irvin has tuned up new evidence of possible wrongdoing and he intends to complete his work and issue a report even though impeachment is now moot. —