Should State Utility Regulators Be Elected Or Selected?

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — The $61 million bribery scandal involving Ohio’s nuclear plant bailout law and a utility widely believed to be FirstEnergy has brought new attention to the commission that regulates utilities. The chair of the Public Utilities Commission resigned in November after an FBI raid on his home.

The Public Utilities Commission, meeting publicly in 2016.
The Public Utilities Commission, meeting publicly in 2016. [Statehouse News Bureau]
All this has some suggesting PUCO commissioners should be elected by voters instead of selected by the governor.

Among the opponents to electing PUCO commissioners is Ned Hill, a professor of Economic Development at Ohio State. He said he’s concerned about dark money from undisclosed donors in races that are way down the ballot, and about extreme far right or far left candidates turning up in those contests.

“You’ll have these commissioners essentially coming through, or could be coming through the primary system. And that scares the bejesus out of me,” Hill said, in a discussion with the City Club of Cleveland last month.

But supporters say commissioners would have to campaign, and that would make them more accountable to the best interests of consumers and the state and not just utilities.

Gov. Mike DeWine has asked for new candidates for PUCO chair after rejecting a list of nominees. He did appoint one of them, former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judi French, to head the Ohio Department of Insurance.