He defeats Theresa Becenti-Aguilar in 3-2 vote
The state Public Regulation Commission on Tuesday elected Republican Ben Hall as its new chairman, ending a week of political maneuverings inside the agency.
Hall, of Ruidoso, won the job on a 3-2 vote.
Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, a Democrat from the Navajo Nation, also sought the chairman’s job. She voted for herself and also received the vote of freshman Commissioner Karen L. Montoya, D-Albuquerque.
Hall, 76, right, got his own vote and those of the former chairman, Republican Patrick Lyons of Clovis, and freshman Democrat Valerie Espinoza of Santa Fe.
Lyons had campaigned to remain chairman of the PRC for a third consecutive year, but backed off when he realized that Hall had the better chance of defeating Becenti-Aguilar. Both men said in separate interviews that they did not want Becenti-Aguilar as chairwoman.
Hall, who was a building contractor for more than 40 years, is a former state representative and former Lincoln County commissioner. He said one of his goals was to make the PRC more efficient.
He cited a 14-month-long case in which PNM submitted more than 5,000 pages to support its request for an increase in electric rates. Hall said the commission staff filed some 2,000 pages in responses.
“It’s a lawyer’s dream,” he said.
The rate-making system is too long, too cumbersome and violates the basic premise that a utility case ought to be understandable to the ordinary person, Hall said.
Hall also said he wanted to pursue an investigation as to why cellular telephone service in northwestern New Mexico had not expanded and to increase the accountability of PRC employees.
He said the agency still had too many workers driving publicly owned vehicles, and that in select cases they were not as productive as they needed to be.
But Hall also said the PRC had improved, its insurance division having regained accreditation and the corporations division improving service to that point that phone inquiries or complaints had declined from hundreds a day to a handful.
“People are not talking bad about us on the street anymore,” Hall said.
As for Lyons, he had campaigned to maintain the chairmanship he had held since his freshman year on the PRC. He eventually yielded to Hall after Becenti-Aguilar ran for the job. She said she did not actively campaign, but accepted the nomination of Montoya.
Lyons, right, said the PRC had eliminated patronage hires since he came aboard, and that its business practices were sound.
The PRC has a budget of about $39 million a year, but Lyons said it collects more than $420 million annually in insurance premiums and service fees.
Under constitutional amendments approved by New Mexico voters last fall, the PRC’s corporations and insurance divisions will be shifted from the agency. The Legislature must approve enabling laws to complete those moves.