Merrie Lee Soules hopes to represent southwestern New Mexico
A Democrat, she is seeking the seat in District 5, covering the southwest section of New Mexico. Republican Ben Hall of Ruidoso now holds the seat.
Soules, 59, said she considered herself semiretired after a career in the transportation industry with General Motors and Delphi Corp. But she still works parttime at Trax International, a private contractor at White Sands Missile Range.
The sister of Democratic state Sen. Bill Soules, she said her professional career had prepared her for service on the PRC, whose main job is to regulate monopoly utility companies.
Soules said her years in business would enable her to analyze complex rate cases, balancing utility company needs with ratepayers' financial interests.
"This is my sweet spot. I want to serve the New Mexico citizens and business and industry," she said in an interview at the state Capitol.
A native of Las Cruces, Soules received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Cleveland State University in 1977. After going to work for GM, she went on to receive a master's degree in business administration from Harvard in 1983.
Soules spent much of her professional career in Warren, Ohio, and Juarez, Mexico. She lived in Las Cruces while employed in Juarez.
She said her brother inspired her to run for public office. Bill Soules formerly served on the Las Cruces school board, and she ran for that office in 2009.
Merrie Lee Soules lost the school board race to Maria Flores by two votes. The PRC will be her second try for public office.
Public regulation commissioners are supposed to work fulltime and they make $90,000 a year.
Hall, 76, has not said whether he will seek re-election next year. He now chairs the five-member PRC.
A former state representative and Lincoln County commissioner, Hall has been critical of PRC practices. Certain utility rate cases have dragged for more than a year without action by the commissioners.
"It's a lawyer's dream," Hall said.
Soules summed up her evaluation of Hall in a sentence: "I think I can do better," she said.
She said she did not know if she would have opposition in the Democratic primary next spring, but wanted to start her campaign now.
Voters last year approved a constitutional amendment increasing qualifications for PRC members. Soules meets the new standards.
Hall, who did not graduate from college, spent much of his working life as a general contractor. As an incumbent public regulation commissioner, he is not subject to the qualification standards under the enabling law approved by the state Legislature this year.
Hall opposed the amendment to increase qualifications for PRC members, saying the bar to serve on the commission should not be higher than that of president, governor or the state Legislature.