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Corbin declined to bring an attempted bribery charge against Welp only because a loophole in state law excluded offers intended to benefit a third party. In 1982, Jim Weeks stepped down without seeking re-election to a second term because of what he termed his "disgust" with the ethics of the commission's Republican majority.

The scandal also provoked an unsuccessful recall effort against Tims and McCarthy, who had campaigned as a consumer advocate. McCarthy and Tims both left the commission, she by early resignation, he because of a fatal heart attack, but the stinging rate hikes they had endorsed left voters still in the mood for reform. It was against this backdrop that Marcia Weeks, then a state representative from Glendale, decided to run for a seat on the commission. As a legislator, Weeks had worked with then-Governor Bruce Babbitt on bills targeting land fraud and other white-collar crime. Weeks sponsored bills to establish RUCO and prevent hidden ownership and insurance fraud; she also helped lead the fight for a state open-meetings law. "There was no open-meetings law before that," Weeks said. "We opened up state government with that law."

Handicapped by her ties to organized labor and the Democratic party, Weeks nevertheless won the 1984 corporation commission race by a narrow margin after campaigning on promises to end the spiraling rate hikes, open up the commission and improve the professional quality of its staff.

Besides stabilizing rates, Weeks reaps praise from consumer advocates for her role in dragging the rate-making process off the golf courses and out of the back room, and into the public eye. "The commission takes a lot of pains to open up the process to the public," RUCO's Brooks says. "When there's a rate case to be heard, they go where the customers are, and that's absolutely essential if you want to learn what's happening to utility customers in the affected communities."

Republican challenger Joe Castillo doesn't defend his party's record on the corporation commission. But he accuses Weeks of "grandstanding" while sweeping goofs under the rug, and claims that she ticks off a lot of people by being too confrontational toward utilities.

While Arizona's top utility executives make little secret of how Weeks grates on them, consumer advocates disagree that the sentiment is widespread among the public at large. "The average person generally thinks the utilities are not to be trusted, and that regulators should be tough and independent," Brooks observes. "Weeks definitely has that type of image."

Castillo also contends that with Marcia Weeks at the helm, the commission's staff really runs the show, as well as running off at the mouth. "The staff recently made remarks publicly about the APS situation which were an embarrassment," Castillo says, referring to statements by Gary Yaquinto, head of the ACC utilities division, questioning the validity of APS claims in its most recent rate proposal. "In effect, the commission has relinquished control to the staff," Castillo asserts.

At the same time, he criticizes Weeks for a recent action in which she set aside a negotiated agreement between the ACC staff and US West and demanded that the phone company yield an additional $3.9 million in rate concessions. "Everything was settled and then she comes in at the last minute and grandstands," Castillo says.

Weeks offers no apology, saying, "I felt the phone company was getting too much money for touch-tone service and said so. They accepted the amendment and the agreement was approved, so whatever you want to call it, I saved the consumer another $3.9 million and I'm proud of it."

Brooks and former RUCO director Williams both say Weeks has helped to assemble a brilliant utilities division staff, giving the corporation commission for the first time an independent, authoritative voice in appraising rate requests. "Marcia's greatest accomplishment is the excellent staff she's helped hire, and Castillo's biggest danger as a longtime APS advocate is that he will immediately remove Yaquinto and dismantle the staff," Williams says. "That would be the true devastation, and one can hear it in the criticism of staff that he's making."

"Our opinion of how this commission has done for the consumer is very good," Brooks says. "One index of that is how many of their decisions we appeal, and we've appealed only one in the last two years."

end part 1 of 2

Castillo's complaints, however, closely mirror opinion within the nation's financial markets. The consensus among Wall Street utilities experts is that, from an investor's point of view, the Arizona Corporation Commission is among the five worst regulatory agencies in the country because of its stingy attitude toward rate hikes.

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Kathleen Stanton