Candidate says Corporation Commission doesn’t need another career politician


Ask Russell Ray why he’s running for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and he chuckles, but turns serious quickly.

It becomes apparent, he is a candidate who believes in more openness on the commission, more accountability of utilities and more protection for the ratepayers and no more career politicans on the commission. He is also a first-timer in running for office.

“There are some pretty scary issues surrounding the Corporation Commission that I think should be pretty disturbing to all Oklahomans,” said the long-time journalist who is one of three candidates for the Republican nomination to be decided in June.

He wants to be a Corporation Commissioner of “transparency and fairness” and in an interview with OK Energy Today quickly revealed his desire for more openness in the Commission’s business dealings, not less, and holding utilities more accountable over their penchant to increase rates on consumers.

“Quite frankly I think the credibility of the commission is at stake and I think adding another member of the political establishment to the commission will make things only worse.”

Without mentioning him by name, Ray was referring to former Secretary of State Brian Bingman who also once was President pro tempore of the state Senate. Bingman’s announcement as a candidate months ago was quickly met with endorsements from the Governor and Lieutenant Governor.

“I think Oklahomans should be concerned the Corporation Commission is becoming an extension of legislative leadership—that’s something every Oklahoman should be concerned about,” added Ray.

“I think if you are a career politician who has worked for years for the energy industry, I think you’re obligated to favor the business over the consumers on every single vote.”

Some have suggested the Corporation Commission is becoming a retirement home for former legislative leaders. Chairman Todd Hiett is a former Speaker of the House and commissioner Kim David was the Oklahoma Senate Majority Floor Leader during her last years before being term limited. If Bingman were elected, it would mean three former legislative leaders would make up the commission.

“I am my own man,” declared Ray in the interview with OK Energy Today. “I do think the balance between the concerns of consumers and the concerns of business is out of balance. I think right now, the balance favors the business over the consumer—that’s not good.”

He went on to indicate he believes the Corporation Commisson needs to do a better job of striking the right balance betwen those two concerns and be more fair to both sides.

Ray spent his career as a journalist who covered oil and gas for the Tulsa World for 8 years and was a business reporter for the Tampa Tribune and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He also spent 9 years as Chairman of POWER- GEN International, which is the sponsor of the largest trade show for the power sector in the world. He also served as Editor-in-Chief of Power Engineering magazine.

Power Engineering is the world’s largest business-to-business magazine for the power sector, serving more than 70,000 readers. Ray was responsible for all editorial content, including a regular column he wrote on energy policy, pricing and technology.

Ray was also editor of the Journal Record in Oklahoma City.

“I’ve written about everything, I’ve covered everything. I understand the trends in technology, trends in pricing and trends in policy—my point is, I think someone with that kind of knowledge and skillset is more qualified than a career politician.”

Ray doesn’t hesitate in complaining how the Corporation Commission doesn’t appear to represent the consumers in handling rate hikes. For instance, the 2021 Winter Storm Uri led to securitization and bonds to cover the costs for the utilities. In turn, the costs were passed along to ratepayers for the next quarter of a century. They continue to be a source of challenges and claims regarding the lack of in-depth exploration of the costs.

“The Commission has passed on billions of dollars in higher fuel costs and higher rate increases to consumers over the last three years I think with little or no scrutiny,” he declared on the same day that Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony filed more objections to the one-page audit of PSO’s storm costs.

“I think the 2021 winter storm raised a lot of questions whether or not the Commission is holding our utilities accountable for the way they managed their fuel costs.”

He believes there should be a “deep dive” investigation into the storm costs borne by consumers, adding that it goes back to “accountability.” Not one-page audits.

When it comes to transparency, Ray expressed grave concerns about House Bill 2367, the measure by Ardmore Rep. Tammy Townley that won House support and an endorsement last week in a State Senate Committee. The measure would allow the three Commissioners to meet and carry out business without notifying the public. It would grant eleven different exemptions of the Oklahoma Public Meeting Act. Called the Oklahoma Corporation Commission Efficiency Act, it also is supported by Commissioners Todd Hiett and Kim David.

Ray called HB2367 an attack on freedom and transparency in Oklahoma.

“This bill would allow commissioners to meet behind closed doors to talk about public business—I’ve got a big, big problem with that and every Oklahoman should have a problem with that—the risk for abuse is great.”

The candidate raised the question—if HB2367 becomes law, what will stop the legislature and others from doing the same thing for every city council or school board? As written, the bill only applies to the Corporation Commission, but questions have been raised that other three-member agencies might want the same power and lead to more legislative leniency.

“This would set a dangerous precedent for the entire state when it comes to open government.”