To most who pay attention, Dist. 3 Public Regulation Commissioner Doug Howe is a marked improvement over former commissioner Jerome Block, Jr. Block resigned last September after pleading guilty to various felonies and is currently on probation. He remains the poster child of everything that can go wrong in New Mexico politics. Howe, on the other hand, has 30 years of utility experience and a grasp of the issues. Earlier this year, Howe’s supporters drafted a petition urging him to run to keep his seat. It didn’t work, but Howe still has seven months left at his job. SFR recently sat down with him to talk about his short PRC tenure and what he thinks needs to be done to fix the troubled agency’s reputation.
Howe, on why he’s not running to keep his seat:
It really came down to the math of the situation. I had to get my feet on the ground pretty fast here. I’m pretty capable in regulation, so that I could do pretty fast, but I’m a newcomer to politics. That meant if I was going to run, I had to figure out what the mechanics of an election actually are. I would have had to probably get somewhere in the area of 2,000 signatures in a short period of time. I would have had to raise the money for public financing. I would have had to find a campaign manager. And all of that would have had to have been accomplished in two months. I would have had to take a leave of absence from this job after having just been put into it. And I made the calculation that it wasn’t worth it. That’s not what I got put into this job to do.
…on his frustration with the PRC:
I suppose it was the Block affair that really focused me very intently on what’s wrong with this body. To have that many problems in that short of time [almost half of the PRC commissioners have had ethics or legal problems in its two-decade history], the PRC is actually talked about by other utility commissions as being an example of how you don’t want to get into the news. In talking with friends, they made me realize that as a citizen of the state, I could either complain about it—which is what I was doing—or I could actually try to do something about it. And since I have the background necessary to be able to do this job, I was convinced by them that I should at least put my name into contention for the governor to consider.
…on the mechanics of his job:
Eighty percent or more of what we hear are what I call pedestrian items. They tend to be boring to the average person…Then there’s the political aspect of this job, as well. You have to be a little bit careful that you haven’t already said so much on a subject that the people filing the case are going to say you’re disqualified from this case. If you were to say, ‘I would never approve a premium increase for Blue Cross Blue Shield,’ you’ve pretty much ruled yourself out. That is something I would caution the people running for this job right now. I’ve heard some of them say they would freeze all rates. Well, that’s utter nonsense. No commissioner has the legal authority to freeze all rates. When you make statements like that, you can actually harm your ability to be one of the deciding commissioners.
…on changing his registration to Democrat:
I have traditionally been a registered Democrat. I de-registered [to an independent] probably 15 years ago. I re-registered as a Democrat this year simply to leave the option open if I did want to run in the primary, and also because I want to vote in the PRC election. I wish [Republicans] would run somebody in this district. I know they think it’s a waste of time and money, but what it means is that [registered Democrats] are going to be the only people voting for a PRC candidate, and not all of them are going to vote. So fewer than half of the electing population is actually going to decide who sits at that desk. The rest have no vote. They’re completely disenfranchised.