Governor Phil Bryant announced his choice to fill the unexpired term of Southern District Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz on Tuesday naming former Chevron Pascagoula Refinery executive Steve Renfroe of Moss Point to the post.
In a statement issued by the Governor’s office Renfroe said he would not seek the job in the 2015 election leaving anyone willing to shoulder the burden of this position two years to raise funds and campaign for the job.
In all candor, come 2015 it is likely the PSC will not be under the intense scrutiny and public displeasure it currently faces since the biggest issue facing the Commission – Kemper and Mississippi Power rates – could be resolved well before then, likely not to the pleasure of the ratepayers. Renfroe will be the guy to take the hits and whoever runs after can come in clean without the cloud of Kemper swirling over their campaign.
This means that Bryant believes Renfroe to be both thick skinned and able to handle the tumultuous wave likely to come.
For Bryant appointing someone that is not a sitting elected official and who is committed not to run for election makes the most sense politically. No chain reaction special elections and wasted funds to run them. No diminishing of the Republican majority in the Legislature, since normally this has been where such appointees have come. No direct criticism of cronyism and doing what the Governor says to stay in good graces for the next election cycle.
The Governor also protected anyone wanting the job from the unpopular ties that are sure to come over the next two years and may well have helped Republicans as they seek to keep the majority on the Commission in 2015.
Truth is the PSC is a board that could very well better operate as an appointed position long term instead of being directly elected. I know this is Mississippi and we like to elect everyone from dog catcher to governor but candidates running for this post have to balance fundraising and hobnobbing with both the people they represent and the companies they regulate, setting up many crises of conscience and making them easy targets for public distrust and criticism. These kinds of positions can be pure hell for the office holder and the public operating in constant tension. These seats don’t normally lead aspiring politicians to higher office. It’s a dead end. Maybe the Kemper issue is just what the Legislature needs to move that effort forward.
With that said, names that may be interested in the Southern District PSC seat come 2015 include:
– Travis Rose – He ran against Bentz in 2011 and has stayed active in speaking to the issues facing the PSC since.
– Republican State Representatives Mark Formby, Casey Eure, Richard Bennett, Hank Zuber and Scott Delano, as well as Democratic State Representative David Baria – Unless these are looking to end their political careers I doubt they will seriously consider a run.
What’s most likely is for a lesser known person to run, perhaps a county supervisor or a city councilman or maybe even a former energy employee or disgruntled small businessman. The winner will also likely come from the coast.
At the end of the day, Bryant did what he had to do to give his party the best chance come 2015.