A likely Republican sweep of the three open Corporation Commission seats means the commission that oversees the state’s utility industry probably will consist entirely of Republicans starting in January.
Ballots continue to be counted, and Democrats trail by significant margins but still hold out hope that the results will change.
As of Nov. 8, incumbent Republican Commissioner Bob Stump leads with 755,521 votes, followed by Republican challengers Bob Burns with 728,203 and Susan Bitter Smith with 721,625. Incumbent Democrat Paul Newman trails all three Republicans with 652,916, followed by incumbent Democrat Sandra Kennedy with 648,350 and Democratic challenger Marcia Busching with 584,108.
Newman declined to comment on the outcome of the race until all 631,000 outstanding ballots throughout the state are accounted for. If 56 percent of all outstanding ballots have a vote for Newman and not for Bitter Smith, he will overtake her. Voters are allowed to vote for up to three candidates.
Sandra Kennedy, likewise would not comment on the results, other than to say she awaits the final tally.
Republican commissioner Stump, however, is ready to declare victory.
“Based on my limited knowledge of statistics, it’s very unlikely that they will get the result they’re looking for,” Stump said.
Stump said he thinks the key to the Republican sweep was their message.
“Ours was one of offering clean energy at an affordable price,” Stump said.
Put into practical terms, that means moving toward the state’s mandate of having 15 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2025, without expanding that standard.
The Democratic slate had dubbed themselves the “Solar Team,” and aggressively advocated expansion of the renewable standard.
Busching said she thinks a $100,000 independent expenditure and the state’s Republican registration advantage account for at least part of the Democratic slate’s loss.
Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr said she’s discouraged at the outcome of the election because she, like the Democrats, sees Republicans on the commission as opposed to the renewable energy agenda.
“There’s been a lot of foot dragging on energy efficiency programs by the Republicans on this commission,” Bahr said. “And they’ve worked to undermine the renewable energy standard.”
Bahr, like the Democratic candidates, sees the commission’s recent classification of waste incineration as a renewable energy source as a big loss for those who want to see solar and wind power advanced.
Martin Shultz, senior policy director for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schrek and former vice president of Pinnacle West Capital Corporation and Arizona Public Service, said he thinks much of the heated debate over renewable energy in Arizona is campaign rhetoric.
“If you look at these five Republicans, you see they have a track record of being supportive of conservative principles, which in a utilities sense means avoiding high cost strategies, ensuring that supply is stable and promoting import-export where you can,” Shultz said. “In the end, it’s not going to be the commission, in my opinion, that drives the industry. It’s going to be the market that drives the industry.”