Former House Speaker and current Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin came before the Arizona House Appropriations Committee to beg them to support HB2123, which would essentially lower standards for conflicts of interests so that he could keep his job. The scene was disturbing as lawmakers attempted to craft a rationalization to explain why Tobin should be allowed to vote on issues that might affect the utility industry in which his son-in-law works.
Tobin admitted that he was told by attorneys before he was appointed to the Commission earlier this year by Governor Doug Ducey that he “wasn’t even appointable. At the end of the day, I knew before being sworn in,” Tobin told lawmakers.
Rep. Charlene Fernandez argued against the bill to her credit. However, she said she always recused herself when – as a school board member – she would have to vote on contracts for district employees including her son. She did not appear to understand that she had a conflict merely sitting on the board of her son’s employer. That sort of nepotism would not normally be allowed even in Arizona, except in the most rural school districts. As a result, it was difficult to take her protestations too seriously no matter how on point they were, said hearing observers.
Observers said the pro-Tobin representatives’ arguments took a very personal tone as they pleaded for the man and not the position. At one point Rep. John Allen got testy and said to attorney Tom Ryan that just because Ryan “eliminated Bitter Smith” referring to former commissioner Susan Bitter-Smith, doesn’t mean that he has “a seat at the table.” Allen did not say why any resident would not have a seat at the Legislature’s table.
Tobin replaced Bitter Smith after her conflict of interest was exposed by Ryan.
Ryan explained to lawmakers that the reason the Corporation Commission currently operates under somewhat stricter standards for conflicts of interests is because commissioners can take measures that might destroy an industry.
Rep. Bowers said before voting in favor of the bill, “I respect our charge to make statute and the appropriateness to make changes, but some questions have been raised that make me question this. For the moment I vote aye.”
Rep. Eric Meyer said before voting against the bill, “I feel like I was shocked that people (legislators) were voting on bills that could improve their own personal finances.”
Rep. Rick Grey passed on voting for the bill because he is running for a spot on the Commission.
The bill passed on an 8-4-2 vote.