The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 13, 2012

Three Republicans seeking top spot on PSC

Associated Press

— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The last Democrat holding statewide office in Alabama will face off against the winner of Tuesday's Republican primary for president of the Public Service Commission.

PSC member Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh is running for the president's spot, along with retired Shelby County businesswoman Kathy Peterson and Mobile real estate businessman Chip Brown.

Sitting president Lucy Baxley took the job after defeating Cavanaugh in a close race in 2008. A Republican win would complete a 32-year transition from all Democrats in statewide office to all Republicans.

Baxley's unique status has catapulted the normally low-profile Republican primary for PSC president to the forefront of the election.

Cavanaugh, 46, is a veteran of Alabama politics, including serving as the first woman leader of the Alabama Republican Party and as an aide to Republican Gov. Bob Riley. She won a seat on the PSC in 2010 by defeating Democratic incumbent Jan Cook. She is in the middle of her current four-year term.

Brown, 42, was chairman of the Baldwin County Republican Party in 1999-2000 and helped defeat the last Democrats holding county office. He ran for the PSC in 2010, narrowly losing the Republican primary to Terry Dunn, who went on to win.

Peterson, 60, was making her first race for public office. When she got in the race, she was best known as the wife of Dale Peterson, the gun-toting candidate for state agriculture commissioner in 2010. He became an Internet sensation with his ads promising to go after the "thugs and criminals" in Montgomery. She did her own hard-hitting Internet ads, but left the guns behind.

Brown and Peterson have been critical of Cavanaugh for voting with Baxley last year to suspend, rather than fire, a PSC manager who was using a state cellphone to run her private travel business. Cavanaugh said the six-week suspension without pay was the toughest punishment available short of firing.

On the eve of the election, Cavanaugh settled two traffic tickets for driving with a suspended license. Information about the tickets surfaced on Internet sites over the weekend. On Monday, Cavanaugh called it "an 11th-hour desperation tactic" to hurt her campaign.

The three candidates were running to lead a utility regulatory board that lacks much of the power it used to wield. The Alabama Legislature has deregulated much of the phone business that the PSC used to oversee, and now some legislative leaders are discussing giving the state troopers the PSC's responsibility for making sure commercial trucking companies have insurance.

The PSC does continue to regulate electric and natural gas utilities, which the candidates said is crucial to maintaining low rates for consumers.