PRC drowning in perpetual angst

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By Jay Miller

The current Public Regulation Commission difficulties involving Jerome Block, Jr. aren’t the first time that five-member body has been in turmoil.
In its dozen years of existence, it has been in almost constant disorder. The PRC was created in 1998 to replace a three-member state Corporation Commission that was always in havoc.
The solution created by the New Mexico Legislature and passed by voters was to replace the Corporation Commission and the appointed Public Utilities Commission with one elected body that would be reined in by various popular “good government” features such as public financing and a ban on campaign donations or other favors from utilities they regulate.
Districts were created that were intended to provide seats for Albuquerque, North Central New Mexico, Northwest New Mexico, the Eastside and the Southwest.
The political divisions looked good, with two districts leaning Democrat, two Republican and the Southwest district being a toss up.
It worked but it didn’t make much difference. Just as with the former three-member body, political affiliations didn’t matter much. Affiliations were based on personalities and who could gang up on whom.
In the beginning, it appeared Republicans had the edge but they elected a Democratic chairman. Then redistricting came along and the Democratic controlled Legislature sought to give Democrats an edge. But somehow the wrong bill got sent to Republican Gov. Gary Johnson to sign and he gladly obliged.
In the redistricting special session 10 years ago the focus was on urban vs. rural PRC districts. Albuquerque was upset that it had only one seat despite having almost a third of the state’s population.
Little has been said about redistricting of the PRC in next month’s special session but it could end up being a sticking point.
It appeared the 1994 Legislature was ready to abolish the elected PRC and make it appointive by the governor. The former Public Utilities Commission, which was appointed by the governor, had operated smoothly.
Three bills were introduced to create an appointed commission composed of experts in utility regulation. But then Ben Ray Lujan, son of House Speaker Ben Lujan, decided to run for the PRC. Little was heard of those bills again.
Streamlining of state government was a popular idea at this time last year but it too has disappeared.  An appointive PRC wouldn’t be a bad idea, along with sending some of its duties to other departments of state government.
Among the PRC’s present duties are regulating utilities, insurance, transportation, pipelines and fire safety. That’s a big order that might be more appropriately handled by other agencies, with more expertise.
As it currently stands, PRC members need not know anything about any of those subjects. All they need do is show up to work occasionally and collect a $90,000 a year paycheck.
The offices have attracted an interesting assortment of candidates over the years. They can be a launching pad for youngsters of well-connected politicians. Jerome Block, Jr’s father preceded him on the commission as did Rep. Ben Lujan’s son Ben Ray.
Or it can be a place where former office holders can settle in for their later years. PRC chairman Patrick Lyons is the former state land commissioner.
Former Chairman David King is a former state treasurer. Several former legislators have been on the commission including Linda Lovejoy, Shirley Baca and current PRC member Ben Hall.
The current state of affairs regarding PRC member Jerome Block, Jr. includes requests that he resign and moves by the state House of Representatives to impeach him.
But don’t count Block out yet. He was in trouble before he ever got elected. There were requests then for him to drop off the ticket. But Block stayed in the race and beat some tough primary and general election opposition without attending forums or debates to answer questions.

Jay Miller