Theresa Becenti-Aguilar
Theresa Becenti-Aguilar (Courtesy of Theresa Becenti-Aguilar)

FARMINGTON — Three Democrats are running for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission's District 4 seat in next month's primaries.

Incumbent Theresa Becenti-Aguilar is challenged by Edward Michael and Lynda Lovejoy.

Voters in the primary election on June 3 will choose the Democrat for the seat. No Republican candidates are running, which means the candidate chosen next month will most likely become the next commissioner after the Nov. 4 general election.

The Public Regulation Commission includes five representatives. Together, they regulate the state's utilities, telecommunications and motor carrier industries to provide fair rates and service to the public. The commission has jurisdiction over a number of consumer issues, including those concerning transportation, pipeline safety, utilities, telecommunications, moving companies and the state fire marshal.

Linda Lovejoy
Linda Lovejoy (Courtesy of Linda Lovejoy)

Becenti-Aguilar currently represents District 4 on the commission. The area encompasses the northwestern corner of the state, including San Juan County, much of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, Gallup and Grants.

She said one of the big issues facing the area is the economy, which is not as strong as other areas in the state. Becenti-Aguilar said she plans to use the experience she has gained on the commission, as well as in the community, to address issues like the economy.

In addition to serving on the Public Regulation Commission, she has worked for Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, when he was the attorney general. She later served as Udall's constituent services representative for tribal relations.

"I started to leap into my own public service by joining the PRC as the first Native American liaison," she said.

Becenti-Aguilar grew up on the Navajo Nation and said she was told by her elders to "succeed in getting an education." She said the elders told her to return to the Nation and help her people.

Becenti-Aguilar, who is from Coyote Canyon and now lives in Santa Fe, was elected in 2010 to serve on the commission. Since then, she said she and her staff have "cleaned house" by replacing various officials, including the chief of staff.

Edward Michael
Edward Michael (Courtesy of Edward Michael)

Like Becenti-Aguilar, Lovejoy also has experience on the commission. Lovejoy, who is from Crownpoint, served for eight years on the Public Regulation Commission, from 1999 to 2006, before she was elected to the New Mexico Senate in 2007. She represented District 22, which encompasses parts of Bernalillo, Cibola, McKinley, Rio Arriba and Sandoval counties.

She said running for the commission was not in her plans until constituents called her and asked her to run.

Lovejoy said during her years as a public servant she has "kept myself constantly engaged in energy issues." One of the biggest issues facing the commission, Lovejoy said, is the closure of units at San Juan Generating Station and Four Corners Power Plant. She said the state needs to plan for more renewable energy while it decreases dependence on coal.

If elected, Lovejoy said she wants to change the business model of the PRC to make cases move through the commission faster. She said when cases get caught up in the bureaucracy of the commission, it is a burden on taxpayers.

"The real job of the commission is adjudicating cases," she said.

Like Lovejoy, Michael, the current county commission chairman of Cibola County, believes energy is an important issue before the Public Regulation Commission.

He said Cibola and San Juan counties have many similarities. For example, at one point, Cibola County had a strong energy industry, he said. He said he supports getting the Four Corners Power Plant "up to snuff."

"You can't afford to lose 1,000 jobs there," he said.

While he supports oil and natural gas development, Michael said he also supports diversifying the energy industry to include renewable energy, such as wind.

As county commissioner in Cibola County, Michael said he worked to get a wind farm installed and to deliver natural gas to rural areas of the county.

If elected, Michael said he would work to make sure the commission doesn't give up any more of its authority.

He said he isn't an expert on all of the issues he may face if elected to the commission but said he is willing to learn about them and "shut up and listen."

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.