Ratepayer alliance asks Va. governor, legislators to fill State Corporation Commission vacancies
Almost two dozen large corporations and ratepayer advocates sent a letter to the governor’s office and the General Assembly calling for action to fill two vacancies on the State Corporation Commission that have existed for months because of a political stalemate.
The Virginia Ratepayer Protection Alliance, a group that includes Google, Amazon Web Services, the Virginia Manufacturers Association and the Virginia Poverty Law Center, told Virginia’s top lawmakers on May 17 that “these Commissioner seats have been vacant for too long.”
“While the SCC’s highly professional staff is ensuring the Commission continues to fulfill its statutory and constitutional responsibilities, the General Assembly is short-changing the citizens of the Commonwealth by not electing judges for two successive sessions,” the letter states. “This is unacceptable and must come to an end with an election of two qualified professionals to the Commission.”
One of the vacancies has existed since January following the Dec. 31 retirement of former commissioner Judith Jagdmann. Another seat had been vacant since the 2022 session, when House Republicans chose not to reappoint former commissioner Angela Navarro.
A two-member quorum of the three-person body, which oversees Virginia utilities, insurance, banking and business, is needed for the SCC to issue orders on cases. Former commissioner Patricia West has been recalled for the SCC to issue final rulings.
Under the Virginia Constitution, the General Assembly has the power to appoint SCC commissioners, although the governor can make interim appointments when seats are left vacant between legislative sessions.
Republicans and Democrats have repeatedly clashed over picks in the past few years. After Navarro’s seat was left empty, the retirement of Jagdmann appeared to have created a pathway for both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate to fill one of the vacancies with a candidate of their choosing.
However, the two sides failed to pass legislation that would have made the two new commissioners have near-equal terms. House Republicans have said Senate Democrats are angry over the GOP’s refusal to accept the party’s nomination of Navarro, whose reappointment Republicans rejected in 2022. Senate Democrats have declined to comment on who they are nominating and have instead said the deal should be based on each chamber getting to nominate whoever they want.
That stalemate continued Friday.
House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said he agrees Virginia needs two new members of the SCC.
“The framework for an agreement is already in place. Each chamber chooses a new member,” Gilbert said. “But Democrats in the Senate insist on nominating someone who has already been rejected by the General Assembly, and refuse to accept anyone else.”
Senate Democrats say House Republicans are moving “the goal post left and right by 50 yards every one second,” comparing the current stalemate to an agreement struck last year allowing each chamber to put forward a person to fill Supreme Court vacancies.
“Their intransigence is driven by their ideological extremism they want to inflict on the SCC,” said Sen. Surovell, D-Fairfax. “It will get resolved when the House Republicans choose to take the same position that they took a year ago when we were choosing Supreme Court judges, or it will get resolved by the voters and my caucus will end up picking two people instead of one.”
While the General Assembly’s adjournment of the 2023 session indicates Gov. Glenn Youngkin could make interim appointments, Senate Democrats have argued that they never adjourned from a one-day session in September 2022, meaning the legislature is still in special session and the governor cannot make appointments. They say that special session won’t expire until the next General Assembly is reconstituted after the November elections.
Youngkin spokesperson Christian Martinez declined to answer questions about the governor’s plan for the appointments or thoughts on the dispute among lawmakers. Instead, he repeated a previous statement that the SCC should be serving at “full capacity” and “should not be used as a political pawn.”
The organizations that signed the May 17 letter have contended the need for appointments is particularly pressing given significant reforms the General Assembly made to the state’s system of electric utility regulation during the last session. Those reforms restored authority to the SCC to set future electricity rates and the profit margin for Dominion, the state’s largest electric utility, as it sees fit.
“Incumbent upon this reinvigorated responsibility is the obvious need for a full slate of Commissioners,” they wrote.