I urge New Mexicans to vote no on Constitutional Amendment 1, which would concentrate and consolidate power away from the people of New Mexico and place it in the hands of a small group of special interests in Santa Fe.
The Public Regulation Commission touches the lives of all New Mexicans. This agency sets the rates New Mexico families pay for electricity, natural gas and other essential utilities. The PRC also oversees other important areas such as rural broadband service and pipeline safety.
The PRC was created in 1996 by constitutional amendment. Balanced, geographic representation on the PRC and streamlining regulatory agencies were key considerations at that time. The PRC replaced the State Corporation Commission, a three-member body elected in statewide elections, and the Public Utility Commission, a three-member body appointed by the governor. Both commissions were dominated by lawyers from the urban centers of the state, primarily Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
One good thing about the PRC is that it reflects the diverse communities of the state. The five PRC members are elected from five separate geographic districts, representing every corner of the state. This has meant that we, the people of New Mexico, have access to our elected commissioners and a representative voice in decisions that profoundly affect us.
Constitutional Amendment 1
takes a big step backward. It would shrink the PRC back into a three-member body whose members would not be elected by the people. It would, instead, have members appointed by the governor. This amendment also has no requirement for any geographic representation. That could make it likely that the commission would, again, be dominated by members from the urban population centers.
Even worse, Constitutional Amendment 1 would extend the terms of PRC commissioners from four years to six, so these appointees would set our utility rates for a dozen years. It also strips the PRC of its constitutionally protected regulatory authority, curtails it and places it under legislative authority. These proposed changes all add up to a power grab from Santa Fe.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of so many New Mexicans, especially those who are jobless, facing delinquent utility bills and even eviction. It also has laid bare our state’s need for broadband internet service for online distance learning, business commerce, tele-health and other important aspects of our lives. Would you trust an appointed industry insider as a PRC member to be empathetic in understanding your situation, helping you recover from this pandemic and protecting you, the consumer?
Don’t be swayed by mail propaganda and slick, distorted TV ads from a political action committee, the Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers, that is pushing for the passage of this amendment under the guise of “voter education.” This PAC recently was caught violating campaign ethics and finance laws and has already funneled more than $250,000 of dark money from anonymous, out-of-state donors into this campaign, with much more expected until Election Day. As a publicly financed candidate, I know I won’t be bought by dark PAC money, and neither will New Mexico voters.
My hope is that voters will send a powerful and overwhelming message to industry insiders and special interests that hide behind PACs by rejecting Constitutional Amendment 1. I truly believe voters can be trusted to uphold our democracy and not choose to give up their constitutional right to fairly and freely elect their PRC members. We must strongly repudiate undue influence and dark money in our elections and maintain a PRC that represents all New Mexicans.
Joseph M. Maestas, a former Santa Fe city councilor and mayor of Española, is the Democratic nominee for District 3, Public Regulation Commission.