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Arizona Lawmakers Debate Excusing Tobin's Possible Conflict Of Interest

Andy Tobin
(Photo courtesy of Arizona State Legislature)
Andy Tobin.

A House panel voted Wednesday night to change state law to ensure that the newest utility regulator in Arizona can vote on requests by electric companies to hike rates on their customers who have solar power.

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Andy Tobin last month to replace Susan Bitter Smith on the Arizona Corporation Commission. Biter Smith quit after being accused of conflicts of interest.

A commission attorney told Tobin he could not vote on issues involving an ongoing dispute between solar interests and electric companies over rates because his son-in-law is an inventory control specialist for SolarCity. Tobin told members of the Appropriations Committee that unless the law is clarified it would lead to ridiculous results.

"Most people would not agree that your sister's husband, who is a receptionist for APS, would exclude you from voting," he argued.

But the issue goes a a bit deeper for Tobin. In Nevada where regulators sided with the utilities, SolarCity stopped doing installations and laid off workers. A similar vote by Arizona commissioners could leave Tobin's son-in-law out of work.

Attorney Tom Ryan acknowledged the rules for the commission are stricter than for lawmakers because of the panel's unique role in regulating monopolies. And he took a swipe at Tobin for even coming to the Capitol to argue for a change in the law.

"The idea that he is down here testifying on this bill, HB 2123, should shock all of you, it should be stunning to you. He should be 100 miles away from this bill. It indicates to me that Commissioner Tobin has a difficulty understanding his own conflict of interest," Ryan said.

The 8-4 vote sends the issue to the full House.