The saga of Jerome Block, Jr.—from election violations to drug addiction, with chimichangas and Gatorade in between—captured Santa Fe’s attention earlier this year. On election day, voters will have the opportunity to approve three amendments to significantly alter the face of the embattled Public Regulation Commission, to which Block was first elected in 2008. But current commissioner Doug Howe says the changes are much bigger than Block.
“Jerome Block, Jr. was useful in getting people’s attention on this…but, for the most part, this is not a Jerome Block fix,” Howe says.
Scandals aside, the PRC cuts a low profile, but it plays a pivotal role in most New Meixcans’ lives. Five elected commissioners oversee the body, which approves gas, electricity, water, phone service and health insurance prices. (This chart shows several of the PRC’s key functions, and how they’ll change if the three PRC-related amendments are approved.) Although the PRC requires them to make important and complex decisions, commissioners themselves must simply be 18 years old, live in New Mexico for at least one year and not be convicted felons.
Amendment 2 seeks to change that by allowing the state Legislature to impose additional requirements—such as a college degree or related work experience—and calls for continuing education for commissioners.
Amendment 3 simplifies the PRC’s mandate by moving its corporation-related duties to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office, which already has some corporations-related duties of its own. This would simplify matters for corporations—they’d only have to visit one office—as well as PRC staff and commissioners.
But commissioner Jason Marks says the most significant change comes in Amendment 4, which moves insurance regulation out of the PRC and makes it a stand-alone agency.
“Virtually no other state does it like us—mixes insurance and utilities,” Marks tells SFR. The change will allow for more accountability and less political influence, he says, by establishing an independent nominating committee to select the insurance superintendent.
“This model would depoliticize hiring completely,” Marks says. “This whole package is about competence. It’s not going to make the PRC [perfect], but it’s going to make the PRC better.”