2012 Elections preview: Two seats on New Mexico's controversy-riddled public regulation commission

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March 21, 2012

By: Greg Janetka

New Mexico

SANTA FE, NM: Two state executive seats on the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission are up for election in New Mexico this year. Candidates wishing to run had until 5 p.m. yesterday to file with the Secretary of State's office. The primary election will be held on June 5, 2012.

The PRC is responsible for regulation of public utilities, transportation companies, transmission and pipeline companies, insurance companies and other public companies. While such commissions tend to draw little attention from the public in most states, New Mexico has been an exception.

Last October, then-Commissioner Jerome Block, Jr. submitted his resignation after pleading guilty to credit card fraud and identity theft, and no contest to an embezzlement charge.[1] His resignation concluded a drawn out affair that began with an investigation in early August. Block was removed from his position as vice-chair as his fellow commissioners and other state officials called on him to resign.[2] Block, however, stood his ground and refused, which led to the creation of a subcommittee in the state House to investigate and make recommendations on his possible impeachment.[3]

Scandal has plagued the PRC in recent years - in 2007, a former state employee was awarded $840,000 stemming from a sexual harassment suit against Commissioner David King and[4] in 2010 the state Supreme Court removed Commissioner Carol Sloan from office after she refused to resign following her conviction of battery and burglary[5] during an incident where she called a woman "a toothless old whore."[6]

In the wake of Block's resignation, the Legislature passed three major reform measures this session aimed at improving the PRC. These include House Joint Resolution 11, which allows the legislature to establish more requirements to serve on the PRC. Currently candidates need only be 18 years of age, have lived in the state for a year and not have any felony convictions. HJR 17 removes PRC's authority over insurance and changes how Superintendents of Insurance are chosen, and HJR 16 moves responsibility for chartering and regulating insurance from the PRC to the Secretary of State. All three are proposed amendments to the state Constitution and will have to be approved by voters in November in order to become law.[7]

While it is unknown if the measures will have enough public support to pass, what is clear is that the PRC will have two new faces come this fall. District 1 incumbent Jason Marks (D) is unable to seek re-election due to term limits, while District 3 incumbent Douglas J. Howe (I) chose not to run.

District 1 Commissioner Marks is term-limited

District 1

Democratic incumbent Jason Marks has held the 1st District seat since 2005 and is term limited. The Democratic primary will be a three way race between current state Rep. Al Park, PRC staff attorney Cynthia Hall and Bernalillo County Assessor Karen Montoya. Attorney Christopher Ocksrider is running unopposed for the Republican nomination.

District 3 Commissioner Howe did not seek re-election

District 3

Incumbent Douglas J. Howe (I) was appointed to District 3 by Governor Susana Martinez on November 7, 2011 to replace Jerome Block.[8] Howe, who was appointed as an Independent, originally said he would run for a full term as a Democrat, but changed his mind, stating, "I don't know how to be a politician. I'm not one. I might be able to learn. But I need a lot more than two months to do it. I finally came to the conclusion that it is an insurmountable task."[9][10]

With Howe out of the race, the Democratic primary will be a five-way battle between Brad Gallegos, Danny Maki, Valerie Espinoza, Virginia Vigil and Ronald L. Rees. Martin Suazo was running as a Democrat, but as of this morning is listed on the Secretary of State's site as not submitting nominating petitions.[11] No Republicans filed in the race.

See also


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