The leader of the state Republican Party is blasting the decision by Gov. Janet Napolitano to name her press aide as the new state utility regulator.
Bob Fannin said Thursday that Kris Mayes is not qualified to be a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission. He said the Democratic governor, who was legally obligated to name a Republican to replace Jim Irvin, had other, more qualified candidates to choose from.
Fannin said he is scouting Republicans to run against Mayes next year — assuming she decides she wants to keep the job.
But Fannin appears to be largely in the minority among the GOP.
Both Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, and House Speaker Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, said they had no reservations about the governor's choice.
Sen. Bob Burns, R-Glendale, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Napolitano may have named a “small r instead of a big R” Republican.
But Burns said the appointment gave him no heartburn.
And even former state Rep. Roberta Voss, an unsuccessful candidate for the post last year who wanted the appointment, said she had no problem with the governor's decision.
The governor acknowledged that Mayes' sole experience inside government is as her chief of communications. But she noted that Mayes worked for years as a reporter, first for the Phoenix Gazette and, after that folded, for the Arizona Republic.
Napolitano said she has been weighing Irvin's replacement for weeks before he finally quit last week in the middle of a House impeachment probe.
"I decided that I wanted somebody who would have roots outside of Maricopa County,'' she said.
The other four commissioners all are residents of the state's largest county.
Napolitano said she also "wanted somebody who was smart and had a record of being a very aggressive advocate and somebody who would go in there and ask the tough questions and insist on answers'' of all the utilities, pipeline companies and securities dealers who appear before the commission.
The governor said Mayes, a Prescott native, has those qualifications as well as the academic background including a master's in public administration and a just-granted law degree.
Fannin said that is insufficient. He said the duties of the commission, many of which deal with setting the rate utilities can charge and balancing those demands with the effects on business and individual customers, require someone who has worked in the private sector.
He also said that the commissioners act as judges on the issues before them.
He said someone with actual experience in the law would be better qualified.
Fannin was no fan of Irvin, having called for him to resign last December after a federal civil jury concluded he had used his position to interfere in a bidding war for Southwest Gas. Napolitano named Paul Allvin, who had been Mayes' chief deputy, as the new communications chief.
He will be earning $88,000 a year, the same as Mayes — who now will get just $79,500 as a commissioner.