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IN THE LONG TRADITION OF CORPORATE SPOKESMEN, SAY HELLO TO JOE

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Castillo also criticizes the recent settlement between the commission and US West, in which the utility sought $122 million in rate hikes and was ordered to reduce its rates by $37 million and required to promise not to seek another rate hike before 1991.

Castillo claims the settlement actually ignored one of the consumers' biggest gripes, the tolls for local calls imposed by the phone company. "On the one hand, she appeared to do something pro-consumer by getting a moratorium on new rate hikes, but at the same time this agreement prevents the commission from addressing the problem of interzonal tolls until the next full-fledged rate hearing at least three years from now," he says.

The rating experts at RUCO shake their heads in disbelief at Castillo's interpretation of the phone-company settlement. "If you want to characterize a $37 million rate reduction as a lost opportunity . . . that's what Castillo is doing," Brooks says.

"We just had a two-week hearing, one of the most contentious I've ever been through, on the topic of interzonal calls," he adds. "It wasn't ignored [in the recent agreement], it was recognized as being too complex and controversial to settle by agreement, so it was set aside for separate hearings." Rate reforms recommended by the staff and RUCO are now under consideration by Weeks and the other commissioners. Castillo also attempts to link Weeks, through her husband Jim, to the obscene rate hikes granted in the six years before she took office. "Marcia fails to mention that her husband was a member of the commission that approved most of those 169 percent rate hikes," Castillo charges.

Yet he acknowledges under questioning that he "doesn't know" if Jim Weeks voted with the majority in those cases. (Jim Weeks opposed all but 11 percent of the rate hikes granted during his six years in office, commission records show.)

Castillo is banking on the populist discontent with high utility rates, and the preponderance of registered Republicans, to carry him past Weeks in the November 6 election. He says many people, "especially Republican women," consider Weeks too mouthy and aggressive.

"She criticizes the utilities publicly, before knowing all the facts, and there's no room for that when we have a hearing process," Castillo says. Despite Castillo's claim that he stands for the average Arizonan, his statements more frequently echo the grumbling coming from utility boardrooms around the state. If Castillo stands for anything, say his critics, it is opportunism.

"If I was a voter, I'd be kind of suspicious of a guy who'd represented the stockholders for years, and then jumped over to the consumer side just when the ship was going down," says state Senator Jaime Gutierrez of Tucson, who has known Castillo since the latter was a Democrat representing southwest Tucson in the state legislature during the late Sixties and early Seventies.

Castillo was the first Hispanic elected to the Arizona Legislature, and says he was a loyal Democrat until he began to feel the party was taking Hispanics, and him in particular, for granted. "Hispanics are really token in the Democratic party," Castillo says.

Castillo claims he decided to switch to the Republicans in 1978 when former Governor Bruce Babbitt declined to reappoint him to an advisory post he had held under Governor Raul Castro. Gutierrez, however, says Castillo had fallen out of favor with the Democrats long before then.

"Before moving to Phoenix and becoming a Republican, Joe was defeated twice in primary races," Gutierrez says. "That tells you something about how he was viewed by fellow Democrats."

Castillo was generally a moderate while in the state legislature, but became increasingly allied with Tucson developers after winning a seat on the Pima County Board of Supervisors in 1972. As battles over urban sprawl in Tucson heated up during the Seventies, Castillo alienated growth-control proponents and gained a reputation for shooting off his mouth.

In one controversial 1973 remark, for instance, Castillo, who represented the economically strapped neighborhoods of South Tucson and west Tucson, suggested closing Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to solve traffic problems. "At least it would make the environmentalists happy," he quipped.

"Davis-Monthan was one of the biggest employers in Tucson and the impact on public opinion was enormous," Gutierrez recalls. "The closest thing to it in Phoenix would be suggesting we shut down Arizona State University."

It was not the first time Castillo's judgment had been questioned. Former Planned Parenthood lobbyist Priscilla Robinson recalls how Castillo reacted when she sought his support for an abortion reform bill during his stint in the state legislature. "I was talking to him about the problem of teen pregnancy, and its effect on the lives of these young girls," Robinson says. "He rocked back in his chair and said, `You know, it's the most natural thing in the world for an eighteen-year-old girl to become pregnant.' He simply didn't see it as a problem."

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Kathleen Stanton