Democrats hope for Corp Comm control as GOP candidates fall

Members of the Arizona Corporation Commission from left: Lea Márquez Peterson, Boyd Dunn, Bob Burns, Justin Olson, Sandra Kennedy
Members of the Arizona Corporation Commission from left: Lea Márquez Peterson, Boyd Dunn, Bob Burns, Justin Olson, Sandra Kennedy

Democratic control of the Arizona Corporation Commission could become a reality after multiple Republican candidates failed to make the ballot.

Just two years ago, the commission was made up of five Republicans before Sandra Kennedy, a Democrat, received the most votes in the 2018 election cutting the deficit to 4-1 in favor of Republicans.

Now, with Chairman Bob Burns reaching term limits and two additional seats open Democrats may have a good shot at picking up one or two seats, the latter scenario giving them a majority in the state’s fourth branch of government.

Six Republicans and three Democrats filed more than the minimum amount of signatures before the early-April deadline, but two Republicans are no longer in the running and three others are sitting in limbo dealing with legal challenges to their signatures pending at the Arizona Supreme Court.

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, was the first to fall as he opted to withdraw his candidacy instead of going through with his signature challenge hearing.

Nick Myers, a political newcomer, was also tossed off the ballot as of May 4 when a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled he was nearly 200 valid signatures shy of the minimum requirement of

Commissioner Boyd Dunn lost the challenge to his nominating petition, due in part to an 18-year-old woman who confessed to forging 100 signatures. A judge ruled all 166 that she collected were deemed invalid. But what really put him under was a decision to consolidate two challenges into one. Dunn would have survived each challenge as a standalone, which is the reason he decided to appeal. An incumbent failing to make the ballot is a rarity in Arizona politics.

And if Dunn fails to make the ballot, there will be no commissioners left from the 2017 Arizona Public Service Co. rate hike.  Tom Forese lost in the 2018 primary, Doug Little resigned for a role in the U.S. Department of Energy in late-2017, Andy Tobin became the director of the Arizona Department of Administration last year and Burns terms out, but was the only “no” vote on the hike.

Kim Owens, a public relations executive who has done some work for Pinnacle West, APS’s parent company, in the past, and Eric Sloan, who chaired an independent expenditure committee the utility used to funnel money to three Republican candidates in 2016, both won their challenges, but the people who were trying to get them to fall short of the signature requirement appealed the decisions to the Supreme Court.

Owens just made it with eight valid signatures over the minimum, while Sloan, who was fired from the Arizona Department of Gaming for singing slavery-related songs when he passed the desk of black co-workers, among other harassment claims, passed with a higher margin, but the two are still in limbo waiting on a group of justices to decide their ultimate fates.

Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson is the only Republican who can patiently wait for the August primary along with the three Democrats hoping to flip the Corporation Commission from Republican hands.

Bill Mundell, who served on the commission as a Republican until 2009 and has since run three times as a Democrat, is giving it another go alongside Tolleson Mayor and former legislator Anna Tovar and Shea Stanfield, a former member of the Cave Creek Town Council. All three will automatically be on the general election ballot in November.

For the Republicans, who are hoping to not concede an extra seat to Democrats, there’s no telling if they will team up on the ballot to capitalize on votes.

Owens told the Yellow Sheet Report she doesn’t know if she would join a slate with other Republican candidates, saying it’s still too early to think about that.

“I’m just worried about my own race and collecting enough [money] to qualify for Clean Elections and getting through today,” she said.

Corporation Commission watchers seem to agree that the preliminary result from these challenges bodes well for Democrats – and for APS, because the two Republicans with the best chances to join Marquez Peterson in the primary have close ties to the public utility they will be in charge of regulating, if elected.

Marquez Peterson had previously taken money from APS and Tucson Electric Power during her 2018 campaign for Congress, but has seemingly severed ties since Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her to replace Tobin last year.

Stacy Champion, an activist and frequent thorn in the side of APS and the commission, went a little further and said if there is potential for a Republican slate, Marquez Peterson would be making a mistake to join with Sloan.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to clarify Kim Owens does not do work for APS currently, but has done work for its parent company in the past through her PR job.