Voter guide: Republican Hiett and Libertarian Hagopian face off in Oklahoma Corporation Commission election
A Libertarian who champions markets free of governmental interference and a Republican, incumbent Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner, are on November’s ballot to fill a seat on the three-person board for the next six years.
The Libertarian is Todd Hagopian, a Michigan native who was the president of shopping cart manufacturer Unarco Industries until he started his own investment firm after being laid off earlier this year.
Todd Hiett, a Republican seeking a second, six-year term as a commissioner, points to the agency's work during his first term as a reason for voters to choose him again.
Over the past six years, commissioners have made decisions on rate cases that involved environmental upgrades on coal-fired electricity generating stations, customer-funded improvements of grid and distribution systems, have approved updated rules involving commercial wind turbines, and have considered disputes between a utility and electric cooperatives over claims of service territory infringements.
Commissioners also have debated the appropriateness of the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund, a fee-based system paid for by phone companies’ customers that is designed to support affordable communications services in rural parts of the state. They have approved rules that govern horizontal drilling for oil and natural gas, made decisions impacting natural gas production from the state’s most prolific wells and given operators temporary authority to determine whether production from their wells is wasteful.
Commissioners also have worked with the agency’s Oil and Gas Conservation Division staff, which in turn has been working with scientists and energy industry leaders to deal with induced seismicity problems attributed by research to saltwater injection wells, and, have actively participated in overseeing technological upgrades of commission services that make it easier for companies to conduct day-to-day business with the agency.
The commission also regulates issues involving cotton gins, the dispensing of motor fuels and related underground petroleum storage tanks, pipeline safety enforcement, railroad intersections with roads and intrastate passenger and freight hauling services.
Currently, commissioners are considering a case that challenges the agency's authority to regulate oil and gas activities on tribal lands.
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Hagopian, who also has held positions at Illinois Tool Works and Whirlpool, said he recently used a company he created called Cash Flow Acquisitions to buy Witt Lining Systems, a manufacturer of plastic liners used for corrosion control in tanks and pits.
Hagopian said he is a disciple of the Pareto Principle, which says that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes, asserting an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs.
He believes he could use that principle at the commission to combat unnecessary regulations he believes the agency created over time as part of an ever-growing mandate fueled by political opportunism.
He is campaigning on the concept of “legalizing success.”
“We need leaders who can remove unnecessary work/effort, and trim the agency to a point where it is only operating under its mandate to regulate businesses essential for the public welfare.” The agency should “stay out of everyone else's way so that we can remove regulatory barriers to entry, allowing more small businesses to put more Oklahoma citizens back to work.”
If elected, Hagopian said he would cut red tape, bar the agency from picking winners and losers and put Oklahomans back to work.
The candidate said government policies can eliminate jobs and make it tougher for new companies to enter markets. He believes free markets give consumers great value and pricing options for the goods they seek while valuing workers for their contributions.
“Every decision this office makes affects small businesses, large businesses, constituents who work in these industries and Oklahomans who are served by them. Oklahoma will never be a successful state if we make it hard to do business, or if we make our people unhealthy, or if we make it hard to find a job. If this commission does nothing else, it needs to make sure that every action it takes passes these three sniff tests.”
Hiett points to record
Hiett, a rancher in Kellyville, ran for Patrice Douglas’ seat on the commission in 2014, narrowly defeating term-limited Sen. Cliff Branan in the GOP primary to win a six-year term, given there was no other opponent.
Hiett pointed to the facts that Oklahomans enjoy some of the lowest costs in the nation for electricity and are seeing far fewer earthquakes than they were when he first took office as evidence of the hard work of both elected commissioners and the agency's staff. As a commissioner, Hiett said he remains impressed about the importance of the agency and the role it plays in making Oklahomans' lives better.
“Almost every resident of our state is touched by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, either directly or indirectly,” Hiett said. “Even outside of electricity use, which impacts everyone, people fuel up their cars, they work for the oil and gas industry that is so important to our economy and they buy and sell goods and materials that are shipped using the trucking industry.”
Hiett entered politics when he was elected to Oklahoma’s House of Representatives in 1995, quickly ascending the party’s leadership ranks to become the House Minority Leader in 2002.
Two years later, he led state House Republicans to their first majority in eight decades and their largest victory in nearly a half-century, becoming the first Republican Speaker of the House in modern times.
“Probably what I enjoy about my job at the commission more than anything else is that we make consequential decisions every day,” he said. “That is different than in the legislature, where it may take you two or three years to achieve one significant policy change.”