PSC candidates pound pavement for votes

Published 1:09 pm Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Political party: Republican

Date of birth: Dec. 28, 1975 (32)

Hometown: Born in Enterprise; now lives in Chelsea.

Education: Attended Enterprise State Junior College.

Professional background: Worked for Home School Legal Defense Association, Gun Owners of America, Conservative Caucus and other groups; worked in several political campaigns, including Tom Parker’s successful race for the Alabama Supreme Court in 2004; now works in communications and marketing.

Political background: Making first run for public office.

Political party: Republican

Date of birth: March 10, 1966 (42).

Hometown: Grew up and lives in Montgomery.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Auburn University in 1989.

Political background: Worked for the Republican National Committee in Washington, served as finance director and executive director of the Alabama Republican Party and as state director of Citizens for a Sound Economy before running for state treasurer in 2002; worked on Gov. Bob Riley’s staff before being elected the first female chairman of the Alabama Republican Party in January 2005; stepped down in February 2007 to return to Riley’s staff as senior adviser.

MONTGOMERY – The two remaining Republican runoff candidates for president of the Alabama Public Service Commission are hitting the road ahead of next week’s primary, seeking to drum up votes as they explain the PSC’s role to many of the state’s residents.

Former state Republican Party chief Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh and Matt Chancey, a relative political newcomer, are vying to replace longtime commission President Jim Sullivan, a Republican who has decided not to seek re-election.

The winner of Tuesday’s runoff will face former Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, who ran unsuccessfully against Gov. Bob Riley in 2006 and was unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Already serving four-year terms on the three-member commission, which regulates Alabama utility companies, are Democrats Jan Cook and Susan Parker.

Auburn University Montgomery political scientist D’Linell Finley said it’s not surprising that the two remaining Republican contenders are having to spend so much time explaining the PSC’s role to the public as they campaign.

“The Public Service Commission is one of those down-ballot elections – it’s not governor, it’s not attorney general, it’s not lieutenant governor. You really have to be civic-minded to know about what it does,” he said.

But people might do well to pay attention to elections for commissioners, he said, because the commissioners “have a great deal of power over matters that directly affect the lives of ordinary folks.”

The PSC president presides over the commission, which regulates Alabama Power Co., Alabama Gas Corp. and other utilities that send monthly bills to residential and business customers.

“Most people don’t know what the PSC does; some don’t even know it exists,” said Chancey, a 32-year-old marketing professional, speaking by cell phone during a campaign trip in northern Alabama. “When you tell them what it does, they’re very interested.”

He said he would raise the commission’s profile by encouraging the commissioners to spend more time talking to people, hearing their grievances. He also supports holding town hall meetings throughout the state and possibly even commission meetings in different locations in the state.

Cavanaugh, 42, said people should be more aware of the commission because it is there to serve the consumer.

“It’s the one thing that affects people’s pocketbooks the most,” said Cavanaugh, also speaking by cell phone on her way back from a trip to the northern part of the state. “I’ve tried to educate people on how important the Public Service Commission is and how it does affect them.”

Cavanaugh came close to avoiding a runoff in the three-candidate primary last month, garnering about 47 percent of the vote – just shy of the simple majority need to win outright. Chancey took almost 29 percent, and former PSC staffer Jack Hornady fell out of the race after picking up just 24 percent of the ballot.

Sullivan has backed Cavanaugh in the race while Hornady hasn’t endorsed either rival.

Finley said Cavanaugh, as a former chairman of the state Republican party and a former member of Riley’s cabinet, has greater name recognition and is heavily favored. But Finley said it was surprising that, given her background and party prominence, she was forced into a runoff with a relative unknown.

He said he expects light voter turnout given the absence of high-profile races.

Chancey said he has driven several thousand miles since the June 3 primary, traveling the state to talk to people, get his name out before the voters and give interviews with small weekly newspapers. With less campaign funding than Cavanaugh, he hasn’t been able to pay for as much television and radio ad space.

He said he expects Cavanaugh to saturate both media with ads and said he is fighting for votes “on the street rather than the airwaves.”

Cavanaugh said she has also been traveling the state, visiting veterans’ halls, Republican meetings and civic organizations and encouraging people to come out and vote for her.