Article of Impeachment

It's time for legislators to give disgraced Corporation Commissioner Jim Irvin the boot

Like cockroaches and Tom Arnold, the only good thing that can be said about Jim Irvin is that he's a survivor.

Who else could remain in office after a jury leveled a $60.4 million judgment against them for official misconduct?

Who else could remain in office after costing the state more than $4 million in legal fees during a severe budget crisis?

The embattled Jim Irvin
The embattled Jim Irvin

Who else could remain in office after so many shady deals, so many questionable staff firings and hirings, so much embarrassment to his agency, so much bullying, so much arrogance, so much blithering stupidity?

You could blame his survival on the fact that most Arizonans know more about quantum physics than about the position Irvin holds. He is an Arizona Corporation Commissioner, one of the guys who set utility rates, oversee the state's businesses and find ways to make electric deregulation an absolute disaster.

As such, though, he is one of the most powerful elected officials in the state.

And because he controls the flow of so much money, he arguably is the guy who can most pilfer the wallets of average Arizonans with his abuse of power.

So, yes, you should care that Jim Irvin is such a punk that he should be impeached by the Arizona House of Representatives.

Irvin's most egregious known stunt as Corporation Commissioner prompted the $60 million judgment from a jury in Nevada in January. In that case, jurors agreed that Irvin had illegally attempted to sabotage the sale of Southwest Gas Company, the Las Vegas-based firm that serves the Valley, to a company called Southern Union.

Jurors said they would have liked to force Irvin's removal from office. But that wasn't within their power, so they hit him with $60 million in punitive damages instead.

Irvin was trying to convince fellow western U.S. regulators that they should support the sale of Southwest to the massive Oklahoma energy company Oneok, a $1.8 billion deal that would have created the largest gas company in the nation.

A close associate of Irvin's had much to gain from such a deal. But it's unknown how much, if at all, Irvin stood to gain personally from promoting the transaction.

Irvin's right-hand man at the time, Jack Rose, could have made as much as $3 million if corporation regulators in the western United States would approve the sale of Southwest to Oneok.

While serving as the Arizona Corporation Commission's top administrator, a position he got thanks to Irvin, Rose surreptitiously pitched a deal to Prudential Securities of New York. According to court documents, Rose offered to work as an agent for Prudential. His job: to persuade Oneok officials to hire Prudential to underwrite any Oneok/Southwest merger.

Rose succeeded at getting Oneok to hire Prudential. And Rose and Irvin almost succeeded at using their public offices to convince fellow regulators that Oneok's offer was in the best interests of the public, even though Southern Union was offering $100 million more for the company.

Approval for the Oneok purchase was frozen in 1999 when Southern Union sued. Southern Union attorneys had been tipped off about Irvin and Rose's illegal activities by Jerry Porter, who at the time was the top aide for Irvin's fellow commissioner, Carl Kunasek.

Discovery and depositions in the case revealed a despicable pattern of behavior by Irvin and Rose.

For instance, Irvin and Rose told fellow regulators in California and Nevada, where the deal would also have to be approved, that Southern Union wasn't financially capable of buying Southwest.

In fact, Southern Union and its billionaire owner were probably in a better financial position to buy Southwest than was Oneok.

On March 2, 1999, Oneok and Southwest formally filed papers asking the Arizona Corporation Commission to approve the merger.

Two weeks later, Irvin and Rose went to San Francisco to talk California regulators into signing a letter supporting the Oneok/Southwest merger.

It was a secret trip. Irvin's official calendar that day said he was in his commission office. Months later, Irvin told the Wall Street Journal that Rose just "happened" to be in San Francisco that day.

However, America West Airlines records obtained in the case showed that Irvin and Rose in fact sat in the same row on the same plane when traveling to San Francisco.

California officials refused to sign the letter. They feared the appearance of impropriety that has never bothered Jim Irvin.

Irvin and Rose then flew to Nevada to get regulators there to sign the letter. Regulators in those states also found the letter inappropriate.

Undaunted, two weeks later, Irvin sent a letter to Southern Union hinting that it would be unable to get regulatory approval from the three states.

Perhaps the most grotesque part of the whole deal: The state has paid several million dollars to defend Irvin and Rose in the case. That's money coming out of our pockets.

Amazingly, the Oneok/Southwest scandal is just the tip of the dirt pile for Irvin.

In one case among many, Irvin pushed for a rate increase for a northwestern Arizona utility that was claiming it needed more money for infrastructure improvements. It was later discovered that the company hadn't done the work it claimed it needed money for. In addition, both Irvin and Rose had longtime financial connections to the owner of the Mohave County company.

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