Gov. Janet Napolitano has named Kris Mayes, her press aide, as the new state utility regulator on the Arizona Corporation Commission.
The governor made the announcement today at a special cabinet meeting in Prescott. Mayes, a Prescott native and Tempe resident, will be sworn in later this month.
Mayes, 32, replaces Jim Irvin who resigned last week in the middle of an impeachment investigation by the House of Representatives. She is a Republican, bringing her appointment into compliance with state law that requires the Democratic governor to name someone of the same party as the former official.
While Mayes has no experience in an elective post she has been a key aide to Napolitano, first on her campaign and, since January, as her chief spokesperson.
She also is a recent graduate of the Arizona State University College of Law and learned just Wednesday that she had passed her bar exam.
Napolitano said Mayes brings "a strong commitment to consumer advocacy to the position." The governor also said that her background as a reporter, first for the now-defunct Phoenix Gazette and later for the Arizona Republic, gives her the necessary skills for the job.
Mayes also possessed one other qualification the governor was seeking: She wanted more diversity on the five-member commission.
Mayes is a woman with roots outside Maricopa County; the other four regulators are males from the state's largest county.
If Mayes wants to keep the office she will have to run for election next year for the balance of the four-year term to which Irvin was reelected in November. State law also would permit her, if elected at that time, to seek her own four-year term in 2006.
The commission's main role is regulating privately owned utilities. But commissioners also have oversight over the sale of securities, pipeline safety and the filing of corporate papers.
Mayes got her undergraduate degree in political science in 1994 from ASU. She also earned a masters degree in public administration from Columbia University.
Although Irvin has resigned, House Speaker Jake Flake directed Mel McDonald, the special counsel, to finish his investigation.
McDonald is expected to report his findings next week. While the House no longer has any legal authority over Irvin, any findings by McDonald that Irvin broke the law could become the basis for federal or state criminal charges.
McDonald is looking into Irvin's activities in interceding in a bidding war for Southwest Gas, allegations he harassed a commission employee for reporting on those activities, and possible fabrication of evidence at a civil trial last year brought by the unsuccessful bidder. He also is reviewing whether Irvin improperly interjected himself into a commission investigation of the brother of a campaign worker, and whether there were forgeries on slips filed with $5 donations to qualify him for public financing for last year's race.