Six toss hats in ring for Corporation Commission appointment

PHOENIX - She's not leaving office until Jan. 4.

But six Arizonans already are lining up to replace Susan Bitter Smith on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Records obtained Wednesday by Capitol Media Services show five individuals have sent messages to Gov. Doug Ducey or his top staffers nominating themselves for the $79,500-a-year post. The list includes a former state legislator, a current mayor, a former mayor, a public relations executive and one man who said his lack of knowledge of anyone involved in utility regulation makes him the ideal pick.

On top of that, former state Sen. Al Melvin, who already had announced he was running for one of the three available seats next year - one of them held by Bitter Smith - told Capitol Media Services that he, too, wants to be considered by Ducey. Melvin was an unsuccessful in getting the Republican nomination last year, a race won by Ducey.

There is another Republican already in the race: Rep. Rick Gray of Sun City. But he hasn't bothered to apply because the Arizona Constitution precludes state legislators from taking any other office during their two-year terms, even if they resign.

Ducey press aide Daniel Scarpinato said his boss will be weighing the relative qualifications of each contender. And Scarpinato said that anyone who is running for the office will not necessarily get more favorable consideration, even though that would give whoever is appointed -- and it has to be a Republican -- a leg-up in next year's election.

"I think he's really focused on finding the best person and not on the politics of it,' Scarpinato said of the governor.

Ducey gets to make the appointment because Bitter Smith, under fire about alleged conflicts of interest because of outside employment, opted to resign instead.

That move likely avoids the Arizona Supreme Court having to consider a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Mark Brnovich to have her removed from office.

Brnovich, in new filings with the high court, asked the justices to kill the lawsuit as moot. But Ed Novak, Bitter Smith's lawyer, said the court should still hear arguments to determine for future commissioners exactly what is and is not an illegal conflict of interest.

The news of her resignation sent several people to their computers to craft messages to the governor asking that they be named.

In her own note to Ducey, Lori Klein Corbin said she had planned to run in 2014 but was dissuaded by a political consultant who was representing two other GOP contenders. Klein, a self-proclaimed "fiscal and social conservative,' cited her legislative experience.

She also is vice president of the Western Center for Journalism, which describes itself as a "news website and blogging platform built for conservative, libertarian, free market and pro-family writers and broadcasters.'

Also in the hunt is Carefree Mayor Les Peterson. His message to the governor's office cites not only his background in business and marketing but also having been involved in rate cases at the commission, both in his role on the city council and president of a homeowners association.

Former Sedona Mayor Alan Everett also sent a note to Ducey expressing his interest. Everett had served on the Arizona Liquor Board until being appointed the agency's director in 2010, a position he held until earlier this year.

The governor's office also got a resume from Zoe Richmond who recently left Union Pacific where she was in charge of lobbying for the railroad in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.

And Lakeside resident Larry Consolver sent Ducey a note saying that he does not know anyone personally in government or regulated utilities which would leave him "clean from any influence.'

The appointment comes amid controversies surrounding the commission, beyond the charges against Bitter Smith.

There also have been allegations that Arizona Public Service secretly funded the 2014 election of Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little through a "dark money' group, potentially with the help of Bob Stump who was already on the commission and not up for election that year. And there have been claims that Bob Burns, the fifth commissioner, had some conflicts of his own because of prior lobbying experience.

Scarpinato said those are all considerations.

"For him, having someone of the utmost integrity who can be trusted by the public and that will be responsible in how they conduct themselves in decisions they make, those are the things that are really at the top of his list when looking at who to appoint to this position,' Scarpinato said.

Beyond that, Scarpinato said his boss has no particular preferences in terms of skills or background.

"I think he's looking at the individual person and recognizes that everybody brings a different set of experiences,' he said. Nor is Ducey necessarily seeking someone with regulatory experience.

"There might also be some individuals who don't necessarily have that expertise but bring other traits to the job: understanding how to work with other people, how to work on a board, political experience to navigate the waters,' Scarpinato said.

Bitter Smith, through a spokeswoman, said she had no comment on the applicants and no preference on who should be named to replace her.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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