Republicans hold leads as Arizona Corporation Commission race tightens
Republicans Justin Olson and Rodney Glassman continued to lead the race for two seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission on Thursday following new vote totals reported by the Secretary of State’s Office.
But Democrat Sandra Kennedy moved closer to Glassman in the race.
Glassman and Olson have led the race over Democrats Kennedy and Kiana Sears in preliminary results since Election Day and were the Associated Press’ projected winners Tuesday night.
Olson has a comfortable lead and has thanked voters for keeping him in office. But with a narrow margin between Glassman and Kennedy for the second seat, Kennedy has not yet conceded.
The gap between Glassman and Kennedy narrowed following a 5 p.m. update Thursday. Glassman led Kennedy by about 14,000 votes after the update. Before the update, his lead was about 28,000 votes.
estimates 460,000 ballots were still to be counted as of 5 p.m. Thursday. About 350,000 of those are in Maricopa County.
“The support and trust that the voters have placed in me by electing me to serve another term on the Corporation Commission is very honoring and very humbling,” Olson wrote on Facebook. “I look forward to continuing my efforts to rebuild the public confidence in the Commission.”
The five elected commissioners set rates and policies for electric, water and gas utilities, and perform other duties including overseeing railroad crossings and pipeline safety.
Glassman thanked the Republican Party for welcoming him at an election night party Tuesday.
“Tonight, Arizona sent a message to Tom Steyer that the Corporation Commission is not for sale,” Glassman said, referring to a renewable-energy ballot measure supported by Steyer, a billionaire activist.
The campaign for seats on the commission focused mostly on ethics and how the candidates would work to restore public trust in the regulators.
In recent years, the commission has faced a variety of issues, from a federal bribery case that ended in a mistrial to questions about the influence Arizona Public Service Co. has on the politicians who set the rates its 1.1 million customers pay.
Two years ago, APS parent company Pinnacle West Capital Corp. began a new policy under which the company would advocate for candidates for the commission and report its spending. The company is suspected of involvement in the election before that — something it doesn’t deny.
Pinnacle West set up a political action committee this year to participate in the races but does not appear to have advertised for or against candidates.
Eric Hyers, campaign manager for Proposition 127, which would have required utilities to use more renewable energy, took credit for APS staying out of the Corporation Commission races. Voters gave the ballot measure a crushing defeat.
Partway through the campaign, the ballot measure’s backers broadened their efforts to target candidates seen as sympathetic to APS.
“In the past, they (APS) have felt emboldened to do that (support ACC candidates),” Hyers said.
He said APS not supportting candidates for the office this year shows “the playing field has been tilted away from them in a way that has never happened.”
He continued: “That’s how you go after a bully . ... You make sure the bully’s friends and subordinates don’t feel they have to do what the bully wants.”
Olson, the only incumbent in the race, is a tax analyst and former lawmaker whom Gov. Doug Ducey appointed in October 2017 to fill a commission vacancy. Glassman is an attorney and served as a Democrat on the Tucson City Council.
On the Democratic side, Kennedy is a former state lawmaker who served one term on the commission. Sears is a school board member and former staffer at the commission running for her first major office.
The main difference between the candidates was their views on renewable energy and whether they would require utilities to use more energy sources such as solar and wind. The Democrats favored such an increase; the Republicans opposed it.