"This Has Wrecked My Career"

Jack Rose was a golden boy, a precocious businessman and political insider. Then he ran into a buzz saw at the Arizona Corporation Commission.

But Kunasek was also upset by Irvin's loaned executive.

Irvin, now 46, chafed at being Kunasek's junior partner. Kunasek, then chairman of the commission, was having his own set of problems with Irvin, who would not follow Kunasek's lead on business -- including electric company deregulation.

"Many times I wondered what I did to make Jim Irvin dislike me," says Kunasek.

Jerry Porter, aide to commissioner Carl Kunasek
Paolo Vescia
Jerry Porter, aide to commissioner Carl Kunasek
The coveted Southwest Gas Corporation
courtesy of Las Vegas Sun
The coveted Southwest Gas Corporation

"Jim had never had a lot of independence [from his family and his father], and I wonder if he was trying to exercise his authority for the first time.... I wonder if I reminded Jim of his father," he says.

Irvin is "all about ego," says Jennings. "He's got a very wealthy father and grandfather, and I got the feeling he had the rug pulled out from under him emotionally and he doesn't come from a totally smooth functioning family."

One commission insider recalls that Irvin referred to Kunasek as "'shit for brains' and 'Mr. Crazy.' One would say: 'You're a liar!' and the other would say: 'No, you're a liar!'"

As chief mandarins, Rose and Porter also grew increasingly antagonistic.

Then Jennings plunged into the maelstrom. To regain his lost power during his last year in office, a year in which electric company deregulation rules would be written and finalized, Jennings aligned himself with Irvin against Kunasek. And he supported a move to fire the commission's executive secretary, Geoffrey Gonsher, Kunasek's hire, and replace him with Jack Rose.

Jennings now says he supported Rose for the job because Kunasek wanted to bring in Porter's friend, former Symington aide Jay Heiler, for the post. Democrat Jennings feared Kunasek would "Symingtonize" the commission, "stack it with a bunch of cronies."

In response to the Rose hire, Kunasek resigned as chairman. Irvin replaced Kunasek. Throughout 1997 and 1998, as deadlines for deregulation rules approached, the commission churned. Animosity among the three commissioners was manifest in seemingly endless, ugly scraps over whose favorite staffer would get fired and whose favorite candidate would get hired. There were fights over salaries. There were accusations of rules violations and state laws broken. There were fights over how many hours aides worked. And the fights were memorialized in letters that shot back and forth between commissioners like spitballs. Some samples:

October 27, 1997. Kunasek to Irvin: "It occurs to me that it may be difficult for a person of your means to understand that many people in this agency work not only because they want to but because they must...."

November 23, 1997. Kunasek to Irvin: "I remain very concerned that this commission's Executive Secretary, Jack Rose, continues to insert himself in areas that are not appropriate for this agency's Executive Secretary.... Given his record this commission has no choice but to relieve Mr. Rose of his duties before further embarrassment befalls Mr. Rose or this agency."

June 23, 1998. Rose to Irvin, Jennings, Kunasek: "... Commissioner Kunasek and Jerry Porter have made over 200 accusations of illegal and improper conduct.... Most of those accusations have been so clearly frivolous or so obviously political that it has been unnecessary to waste taxpayer resources to rebut the accusations."

October 16, 1998. Jennings to Kunasek: "What happened to you? You used to be a civil and measured fellow. You have become the most accusatory person I have ever known in government.... Don't you see in any of your own behavior why it has been difficult for Jim Irvin to get along with you?"

October 30, 1998. Kunasek to Jennings: "Your neverending partisan theatrics has now severely destroyed any shred of truth and dignity that may have once existed in your office."

November 2, 1998. Porter to Jennings: "... the campaigns you have conducted for this office have been despicable."

December 31, 1998. Jennings to Porter: "... Liddy-like, you create phony crises to solve.... You know what you are doing. You are a smear artist."

To this day, each side blames the other for fanning the strife. Irvin was "goofy," says one Kunasek loyalist, but Jennings, "basically an honest individual," aligned himself with Irvin, whom "he knew to be nutty" and thus enabled the hiring of "slippery" Rose.

Rose seemed to protect Irvin, who alienated nearly everyone he dealt with. And Irvin seemed overly reliant on Rose's opinions.

When Rose came on as executive secretary, he hung his framed diplomas on the wall. In an introductory letter to the agency's 270 or so staffers, Rose said: "I have a very strong interest in utility regulation dating back to my years on the Mohave County Board of Supervisors.... I will be sending you a follow-up memorandum discussing my economic and regulatory policy."

Rose did not just administer the commission, which is what executive secretaries normally do. Instead, he added "chief executive officer" to his job title, a move he now concedes was "a bit pretentious." He also made key policy decisions.

"Why shouldn't I go into policy issues?" Rose asks.

For instance, he negotiated a settlement over a lawsuit with US West. And he was a key player in deregulation talks. Rose admits he "made a mistake" when he hired Morris Wolff as utilities director. Wolff was forced out after Porter discovered that Wolff had lied on his résumé.

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