Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

Local PRC official weighs in on amendment


October 21, 2020

It’s safe to say Jefferson Byrd won’t have a “Yes on 1” yard sign at his rural Tucumcari home during this election season.

That’s because the District 2 commissioner for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, who represents the eastern half of the state, isn’t bashful about his opposition to the proposed state constitutional amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot.

The PRC oversees public utilities, including rates for electric companies, pipelines, sewers and telecommunications.

Constitutional Amendment 1 would convert the elected five-member commission to a three-person commission appointed by the governor from a list a candidates provided by a nominating committee and confirmed by the state senate. No more than two of the three appointed commissioners could come from the same political party, and each would be limited to two six-year terms.

The amendment, which backers say is needed to have professionally qualified members and not politicians on the PRC, has gained support from state Sens. William Payne (R-Albuquerque) and Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) and two Democratic members of the commission.

Byrd, a Republican, said in telephone interview Friday he disagrees with those senators and those fellow PRC members.

“Their arguments is we need qualified commissioners. But, as I’ve said, there’s a lot of technical positions — the state treasurer, state auditor, land commissioner — all of those are elected positions that are very technical in nature, but they don’t think they need qualifications,” he said.

“Furthermore, the Legislature actually has within their purview the ability to set standards on who can be a candidate for the PRC. But they don’t do it. So the argument they clearly need it is facetious. I can see why some qualifications would be useful, but that aside, they have the authority to do that already.”

Byrd noted even if the state legislatures set qualifications that PRC members need 10 years of experience in a regulated industry and an engineering or law degree, he still would qualify.

When asked whether the proposed amendment was a power play by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Byrd responded: “Absolutely.”

Byrd said Lujan Grisham revealed her desires for the PRC two years ago.

“When asked why she thinks she needs to change the commission, she said, ‘Because they won’t do what I want,’” he said.

“Clearly, she’s wanting the authority and control, and the Legislature agrees it should be controlled rather than be independent,” Byrd added. “We’re one of the most powerful authorities in the state of New Mexico because we’re not under the thumb of the governor or the Legislature.”

If voters approve the measure, Byrd technically still would be able to serve out his term through 2023.

But he pointed out Constitutional Amendment 2 on the ballot, if approved, would allow state lawmakers to adjust date of elections and terms for non-statewide officeholders.

“It could be they’ll shorten all our terms, kick us out and get what they want,” he said.

Byrd acknowledged he already had a dim view of the governor and some Democratic leaders earlier this year after the state’s General Services Department ordered the PRC and its 126 employees evicted from its building near the Roundhouse, with no new headquarters lined up nor funding for it.

“Not only do we not have office space, but all our land lines were disconnected,” Byrd said. “There’s a lot of people around the state, trying to get a hold of us, who haven’t been able to. They’re frustrated by this action of the governor. It’s her intent to make us look bad, because people don’t pay attention why we’re not answering the phone. They don’t know the governor kicked us out of the building.”

He said Lujan Grisham was being “vindictive,” especially after the PRC voted last year not to uphold clauses in the Energy Transition Act that would have allowed utilities to recover investments in coal plants from customers when replacing them with renewable energy sources.

Byrd said he and his fellow commissioners have been conducting official business since March via the Zoom videoconferencing platform. But he said the lack of a home for the PRC causes other problems.

“Our problem is, where do we put our copiers, our big equipment to make documents and stuff like that?” he said. “We’re going to Kinko’s to get our documents. We have a lot of legal documents that are confidential being stored in individuals’ homes right now.”


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