- Democrats vying for seats on the board that regulates Arizona utilities are calling for a recently-appointed Republican member to step down due to a conflict of interest with rooftop solar provider SolarCity, the Arizona Republic reports.
- Democrats William Mundell and Tom Chabin, running for seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), say former state House of Representatives Speaker Andy Tobin, a Republican just appointed by Governor Doug Ducey to the ACC, should resign because of conflicts of interest.
- Arizona commissioners are elected but Tobin was appointed to replace Commission Chair Susan Bitter Smith, who was forced to resign due a separate conflict of interest controversy. Tobin’s conflicts center on the fact that his son-in-law is employed by SolarCity, the leading U.S. residential solar installer.
The ACC regulates the state’s utilities, not private sector businesses like SolarCity, but the installer has been an important factor in many recent controversial decisions made by the five person commission and Tobin has had to recuse himself from pivotal current proceedings involving solar rate design.
Tobin, a former state legislator who has filled a number of temporary agency posts for Gov. Ducey, said when he was appointed in December that he would stay far away from proceedings involving his son-in-law's employer, not just recusing himself "when the lawyer says 'you have a conflict.'"
But if some lawmakers have their way he may not have to. Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 2123, written to ease conflict-of-interest rules. It makes commissioners subject to the same rules that guide the legislature and alters the definition of “remote interest” in a way that would allow Tobin to participate unencumbered in commission proceedings on solar.
The bill is expected to win Senate approval and be signed by the governor, leading some Democrats to cry foul. In a letter seeking Tobin's resignation, Mundell and Chabin, both candidates for the ACC, said the courts could take issue with the plan for a Republican-controlled legislature to rewrite rules for a GOP gubernatorial appointee.
"You have asked two branches of government to save your job — an unprecedented maneuver that we think the third branch of government (the judicial) may not view favorably," they wrote in the letter.
Tobin's seat on the ACC was opened up when Bitter Smith was forced to resign. Late last year, the state Attorney General's Office filed a petition with the Arizona Supreme Court arguing that her work with the Southwest Cable Communications Association represented a conflict-of-interest with the commission’s responsibility to regulate telecommunications companies.
Bitter Smith's resignation and other ethics conflicts at the ACC led to the hiring late last year of an "ethics officer."
Mundell and Chabin are the only two Democrats currently running for the ACC, the Republic reports. Tobin will serve out the rest of Bitter Smith's term but does not plan to run for the seat.