PHOENIX - Tom Chabin, who lived on the Hopi and Navajo reservations for about 25 years, is running for the Arizona Corporation Commission to root out corruption.
Chabin and Bill Mundell are running unopposed for the three seats that are open Aug. 30 in the Democratic primary. Five Republicans are running in their own primary: incumbents Robert Burns and Andy Tobin, Arizona House State District 21 Rep. Rick Gray, former Arizona State Sen. Al Melvin and former Maricopa County Judge Boyd Dunn.
The winners will square off Nov. 8 in the general election. Those elected will serve four year terms.
Chabin, who served on the Tuba City School District Governing Board, said he wants to restore integrity to the Arizona Corporation Commission by creating a buffer between it and the utilities it regulates.
"Every boundary has been crossed. There is the appearance of the commissioners being corrupted and controlled by the utilities. This would be recognized by anybody," he said.
The Arizona Corporation Commission regulates utilities, the forming of corporations and oversees powerlines, pipeline safety, railroad crossing safety and establishes utility rates for every utility in Arizona.
APS has proposed rate increases that will average 8 percent per residence. Chabin doesn't want this to go before a commission that will pass it automatically.
He said Salt River Project has the same amount of customers, 1.2 million, as APS, but SRP has asked for a 3 percent reduction on its own since it is not regulated by the ACC. He said APS wants to add a demand-charge system that could run some residential customers as much as $200 per month.
"That would be a tremendous spike on a bill," he said. "Good commissioners would ask why APS needs this."
Chabin said three years ago APS made $380 million, two years ago APS made $408 million and last year APS made $460 million. He said the top five APS executives made over $25 million each last year, so he questions why APS needs a rate increase.
"The bottom line is, given these profits and given this pay and their investments in dark money, why do they need another nickel of their customers' dime?" he asked.
Chabin said that APS donated $3 million into election campaigns two years ago to defeat moderate Republicans in the primary and then to beat the Democrats in the general election. He points to concerns that Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump was communicating with dark money campaigns, APS and the two Republican candidates who were elected during the election two years ago.
Much of that was dark money; funds that go into political organizations that have no legal obligation to disclose their donors.
Over a year ago, then commissioner Susan Bitter Smith, under investigation for a conflict of interest, resigned just before the Arizona Supreme Court was to hear her case.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey then appointed former House Speaker Andy Tobin to replace her. Before Tobin was sworn in, he learned that he might have a conflict of interest because his son works for a solar company and his brother worked for a telecommunication company regulated by the commission. The state legislature voted to change the law.
ACC Commissioner Bob Burns wanted to look into the finances of APS, but APS has so far resisted.
Chabin questions what the FBI is investigating and whether the current commissioners can be trusted.
"This is the essence of my campaign," he said. "Until we have commissioners that hear cases for rate changes that are unbiased everything else is secondary."
Chabin and former ACC Commissioner Bill Mundell are running as a team.
"We have formed an alliance through respect and friendship," Chabin said.
Mundell served nine years on the commission and Chabin feels Mundell understands the work of the commission.
"I felt that if no one else was going to run, I had to run because somebody has to stand up to these guys," he said.
Chabin said when he first entered the race that he was seen as a long shot, but as the allegations have come to light that many are suggesting that the team with Mundell has a chance better chance to change the commission's makeup, as Chabin sees it, and bring integrity to it.
At age 65, Chabin has had a long lasting relationship with Navajo and Hopi people, serving in the state legislature, but also coaching basketball and chess teams in Tuba City.
He served on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors where his district included Kaibeto, Inscription House, Leupp, Tolani Lake and Moenkopi. He worked with then Supervisor Louise Yellowman to approve road maintenance and funds for other local projects.
Chabin served eight years in the state legislature where his main task was fighting off budget cuts for education. He also helped the Navajo people secure their share of medical funds from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
Chabin calls the reservation his home because his late wife taught in Moenkopi and they raised his son there.
"Going back there is going home because you don't do all those things without having your heart and soul stay there. My point of reference was to me how Navajos and Hopis approach things. I learned so much that it's part of my life today and will be part of my approach when I am on the commission," he said.
Most of the Navajo Nation is served by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and thus doesn't deal with APS, but along Highway 89 from Tuba City to Gap is serviced by APS. Much of the Hopi Reservation is also APS territory.
"They should be concerned about their APS bill," Chabin said.
No Democrat has sat on the ACC since 2012, but Chabin feels he has a good chance because he thinks voters want to eliminate corruption.
"I'm amazed that this has gone on and that they are this arrogant," he said. "People will vote against corruption.
The Arizona Corporation Commission also regulates power lines and railroad crossing safety so they have cooperative efforts that impact the reservations.
A water company in the New Lands area had problems and NTUA had to come in to save the water system. Chabin said this was because the corporation commission was lax on regulating water companies.
Chabin supports the Democratic ticket of Hillary Clinton for president, Ann Kirkpatrick for U.S. Senate and Tom O'Halleran for U.S. Representative.
Chabin opposes Donald Trump's campaign for president.
"Trump would be a disaster because he's unfit to be president," Chabion said. "I have great empathy for Republicans when Trump doesn't like McCain because he was captured. What do you say to your presidential nominee when he says that?"
Chabin stated that Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake has voiced his lack of support for Trump and Chabin said he is amazed that McCain has voiced his support for Trump.
Chabin has a Bachelor's in American Studies from Northern Arizona University. He owned a reservation business before gaining political office.