SANTA FE — The state Public Regulation Commission on Tuesday elected Republican Ben Hall as its new chairman, ending a week of political maneuverings inside the agency.

Hall, of Ruidoso, won the job on a 3-2 vote.

Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, a Democrat from the Navajo Nation, also sought the chairman's job. She voted for herself and also received the vote of freshman Commissioner Karen L. Montoya, D-Albuquerque.

Hall, 76, got his own vote and those of the former chairman, Republican Patrick Lyons of Clovis, and freshman Democrat Valerie Espinoza of Santa Fe.

Lyons had campaigned to remain chairman of the PRC -- which has an annual budget of $39 million and collects hundreds of millions of dollars each year in insurance premiums and service fees -- for a third consecutive year. He backed off when he realized that Hall had the better chance of defeating Becenti-Aguilar. Both men said in separate interviews that they did not want Becenti-Aguilar as chairwoman.

Hall, who was a building contractor for more than 40 years, is a former state representative and former Lincoln County commissioner. He said one of his goals was to make the PRC more efficient.

He cited a 14-month-long case in which PNM submitted more than 5,000 pages to support its request for an increase in electric rates. Hall said the commission staff filed some 2,000 pages in responses.

"It's a lawyer's dream," he said.

The rate-making system takes too much time, is too cumbersome and violates the basic premise that a utility case ought to be understandable to the ordinary person, Hall said.


Hall also said he wanted to pursue an investigation as to why cellular telephone service in northwestern New Mexico had not expanded and to increase the accountability of PRC employees.

He said the agency still had too many workers driving publicly owned vehicles, and that in select cases they were not as productive as they needed to be.

But Hall also said the PRC had improved because its insurance division has regained accreditation and the corporations division improved service to the point that phone inquiries or complaints have declined from hundreds a day to a handful.

"People are not talking bad about us on the street anymore," Hall said.

As for Lyons, he had campaigned to maintain the chairmanship he had held since his freshman year on the PRC. He said the PRC had eliminated patronage hires since he came aboard, and that its business practices were sound.

Lyons eventually yielded to Hall after Becenti-Aguilar ran for the job. She said she did not actively campaign, but accepted Montoya's nomination.