Rodney Glassman, Who Ran Against John McCain in 2010, Is Back

Rodney Glassman, second from left, at the 2018 Legislative Forecast Luncheon in Phoenix in January.
Rodney Glassman, second from left, at the 2018 Legislative Forecast Luncheon in Phoenix in January. Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Rodney Glassman hovered just outside the auditorium at the Sundial Center in Sun City, waiting for a reporter to finish another interview.

It was late in the evening on Monday, October 8. The Democrat-turned-Republican, former Tucson city councilman, one-time candidate for U.S. Senate, practicing attorney, children’s book series co-author, and now, candidate for Arizona Corporation Commission, had spent the last hour before a sea of Sun City residents, trying to persuade them to vote for him.

Residents made their way toward the exit after listening to Glassman and three other Corporation Commission candidates lambaste corruption in the current commission. During that forum, Glassman touted his plan to “restore integrity” in the quasi-judicial body, even though his checkered political background has earned him a reputation as someone who's extremely ambitious — maybe even desperate — to climb the political ladder.

When his turn to be interviewed finally came, Glassman smiled big and took a seat, manspreading. He began talking about how he met his wife in law school at the University of Arizona before launching into a string of campaign phrases: “...truly stark contrast between the candidates that were interested in keeping rates low … restoring integrity at the Commission...”

“It’s sad and disappointing to hear just how frustrated so many of these residents are,” he said, still in campaign mode.

A woman on her way out stopped in her tracks and turned around. “Yes, I am," she said. "It was unjust.”

Glassman glanced at her and tried to keep talking.

The woman explained that she was talking about a wastewater consolidation case from last summer, which will eventually cause rates for Sun City residents to nearly double. “We were very upset. I live here. I’ve been here for 24 years.” Her voice was taut with anger.

Glassman didn't engage.

In 2007, while a law student at the University of Arizona, Glassman won a seat on the Tucson City Council as a Democrat. He resigned in 2010 to run for the U.S. Senate against John McCain. During that campaign, it surfaced that Glassman appeared to have lifted portions of his Ph.D. dissertation directly from other sources without attribution. Even the New York Times covered his alleged plagiarism, which Glassman denied.

His degree in arid land resources is one thing Glassman trots out as proof of his qualifications for Corporation Commissioner. But his dissertation, whatever amount of it he wrote himself, is about “the impact of hands-on learning as a component of agriculture in the classroom,” as Glassman told New Times before he characterized it as “a hard science Ph.D.”

The Corporation Commission is a five-member, quasi-judicial body that sets rates for utilities. In recent years, a string of ethical scandals has earned it a reputation for corruption, and this year’s candidates have focused their campaign messaging on promises to root that out.

Glassman, for his part, has touted his proposal for a judicial code of conduct at the Corporation Commission. The code he calls for is not a new one, nor one he wrote himself. It's the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct, which applies to all judges in Arizona.

“Corporation Commission needs ethics code; Copy this one,” read part of the headline of an opinion article Glassman contributed to the Arizona Republic in March. (Given the plagiarism allegations, perhaps he should’ve thought that through more.) Ironically, he copied the code incorrectly in his article, leaving out a phrase in Canon 1.

Glassman’s idea was for the Corporation Commission to adopt that code of conduct, so that Arizonans could file complaints against commissioners with the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct, which deals with allegations of misconduct.

This idea, borrowed from elsewhere, has Glassman repeatedly describing himself as “the only candidate that’s put forward an actual proposal” to clean up the dirtied state of ethics at the commission.

Around 2015, about four years after moving from Tucson to Phoenix, Glassman became a Republican. In 2018, he’s running for Corporation Commission because, he said, the job aligns with his skill set as a practicing attorney and with his background in water. While on the Tucson City Council, he proposed the first ordinance in the country that required commercial developers to harvest rainwater.

This track record, he said, makes him valuable at the Corporation Commission, which hears and decides on water rate cases. He attempted to explain how rainwater harvesting policy and water rate cases were not as different as they might seem. His cryptic answers revealed more about Glassman than they did about about water policies and rates.

“There’s the job that you’re running for” — Glassman called this “the micro” — "and at the macro, we have 10 statewide elected officials in Arizona.” (Actually, there are 11.) “When it comes to the issue of water at the macro, it’s going to need to be an all-hands-on-deck effort,” he said.

As a commissioner, Glassman wouldn’t be crafting water policy, but he’d be involved in and have access to the highest levels of state government. “I’ll be able to leverage that background to do more than just adjudicate rate cases at the Corporation Commission. I will be able to lend my voice when it comes to the issue of advocating for Arizona’s water future,” he said, hinting at these ambitions.

“Historically, Arizona’s water guy has been Jon Kyl,” he added, referring to the former Arizona senator, the expert in water policy who is temporarily serving in place place of the late John McCain. “With his retirement, Arizona no longer has a statewide water expert.”

Does Glassman, who once vied for McCain’s seat, want to become the next Jon Kyl?

When staff at the Sundial Center began closing and locking doors, Justin Olson, the other Republican on the ticket for the Corporation Commission, was lingering, waiting for Glassman to finish. They’d carpooled that day, driving from a lunch in Kingman to the evening forum in Sun City, and Olson couldn't leave without Glassman.

“I guarantee you Justin Olson will now tell you that there’s absolutely nothing that we didn’t just talk about, because he wants to go home!” Glassman said. A grin spread across his face and he laughed, just a little bit too hard.
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Elizabeth Whitman was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from March 2019 to April 2020.