Sandy Jones, chairman of the state Public Regulation Commission, trailed in late vote-counting from the Democratic primary election Tuesday. Another PRC incumbent, Democrat Lynda Lovejoy, also was behind in a tight race.
The parent company of Public Service Company of New Mexico, which is regulated by the PRC, contributed more than $400,000 to a political action committee supporting the re-election of Jones and Lovejoy.
Environmentalists and clean-energy advocates, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, backed challengers to Jones and Lovejoy.
Former state Sen. Steve Fischmann of Las Cruces led Jones for the PRC seat in Southern New Mexico. With votes still being counted, Fischmann led by 5 percentage points, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
For the PRC seat in Western New Mexico, Lovejoy faced indigenous rights advocate Janene Yazzie of Gallup and Theresa Becenti-Aguilar of Albuquerque, a former PRC commissioner who was ousted from the job four years ago by Lovejoy. Becenti-Aguilar had 35 percent of the vote, Lovejoy 33 percent and Yazzie 32 percent, according to unofficial returns.
In the waning weeks of the campaign, PNM Resources contributed $440,000 to New Mexicans for Progress, a PAC supporting Jones and Lovejoy. The PAC employed the firm of Jay McCleskey, political adviser to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
New Mexicans for Progress said Lovejoy and Jones had forced utilities to keep rates down while protecting the environment.
Two major PACs opposed the re-election of Lovejoy and Jones: CVNM Verde Voters Fund, which is affiliated with Conservation Voters New Mexico, and Responsible Leadership NM.
Bloomberg contributed at least $185,000 to the two PACs that supported Yazzie and Fischmann. A California clean-energy group donated at least $100,000 to Responsible Leadership NM.
Responsible Leadership NM portrayed Jones and Lovejoy as rubber stamps for the utility industry.
The group also cited the thousands of dollars in campaign contributions that the commissioners received from an Albuquerque solar company and related interests after Jones and Lovejoy voted to allow PNM to purchase five solar farms from the firm.
Lovejoy said late Tuesday that she had been the victim of dirty politics and false propaganda portraying her as being in the pocket of PNM.
“I have never allowed myself to be influenced by anybody, PNM, nobody,” she said. “I’m an independent person.”
Lovejoy, from Albuquerque, a former member of the state Senate and House of Representatives, was first elected to the PRC in 1998. She served eight years, sat out four years, then was elected to the PRC again in 2014.
No Republican filed for the party’s nomination for the seat held by Lovejoy, meaning the winner of the Democratic primary is a virtual shoo-in in the November general election.
Jones, of Las Palomas in Sierra County, was first elected to the commission in 2006. After an unsuccessful run for state land commissioner in 2010, he was elected to the PRC again in 2014.
Fischmann said late Tuesday he was feeling good about the race but declined to comment further.
There was a three-way Republican race for the party’s nomination for the seat held by Jones. Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys and former PRC member Ben Hall of Ruidoso were neck and neck, raising the possibility of a recount. Retired Los Lunas contractor Joseph Bizzell was running third.
Also at stake in this year’s election is the PRC seat in Eastern New Mexico. Rancher Jefferson Byrd of Tucumcari, a former congressional candidate, led Jerry Partin of Portales, a former general manager of an electric cooperative, for the Republican nomination in the primary election.
Attorney Ken Sanders of Cedar Crest was unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
The PRC’s duties include regulation of utilities, telecommunications and motor carriers. The job of commissioner pays $90,000 a year.