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

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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."

"He's no dummy, but he's always got an agenda, so you don't really think of him weighing both sides of a problem," Robinson says. "All the time he was in the state Senate and on the board of supervisors, he was always a spokesman for somebody, usually big business.

"There's nothing in his history or record that would give you any confidence that he would be a consumer advocate," Robinson says.

In 1976, Castillo ran for re-election to the Pima County Board of Supervisors and was defeated in the primary by Democrat David Yetman, who campaigned as an advocate of urban planning and environmental protection. Two years later, Castillo attempted to recapture his seat in the state legislature, but was defeated by Gutierrez.

Soon afterward, Castillo moved his family to Phoenix and switched his registration to Republican. "I felt I could make an impact in the Republican party," he says.

His former Democratic colleagues are more cynical. "Joe understands which side his bread is buttered on," Gutierrez says. "If you're a Hispanic with a small business, you'd have a much more difficult time breaking into the Phoenix establishment as a Democrat."

RECENT POLLS INDICATE that 44 percent of the voters still haven't picked a favorite for corporation commissioner, a good indication that a lot of folks may be planning to blow off the race without casting a vote.

Lurking in the wings, however, is the upcoming APS rate case--the largest single increase ever sought by an Arizona utility--which will be decided by the commission in the next few weeks. The $271 million rate request APS filed in January would boost residential rates by nearly 25 percent. A homeowner who uses 925 kilowatt hours a month would see the electric bill jump from $88.97 to $110.84 in the next two years.

With this kind of money at stake, the question voters have to ask themselves before they sit out this race is, "Am I feeling lucky?"

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.

The impact has been especially harsh for Southwest Gas, which recently sued the commission to overturn a decision giving the utility less than one fifth the rate hike it had sought, says Foster Corwith, first vice president for research at Dean Witter Reynolds Incorporated in New York City. "The action of the commission in the most recent rate case so damaged prospects for Southwest Gas that I don't think we can even count on dividends being maintained," Corwith says. "The rate decision also was directly responsible for the company's debt rating being downgraded to BBB-, just one step above speculative [junk bond] debt."

Corwith predicts that Southwest Gas customers ultimately will pay the price for the commission's actions now, because the lowered bond rating means the utility will have to pay higher interest rates any time it must borrow money to expand or improve its system.

It is less easy to draw conclusions about the commission's impact on other big Arizona utilities. Utility analysts say the financial problems of APS and TEP cannot be laid at the commission's door, but result instead from mistakes by company management.

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Kathleen Stanton