Two Republicans with inside knowledge of the workings of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission are competing for a six-year term on the regulatory panel that covers everything from oil and gas to public utilities and trucking.
Bob Anthony, 64, is seeking his fifth term on the panel, while former commission administrator and certified public accountant Brooks Mitchell, 51, is making his first run for statewide office.
No Democrat filed for the post, so the winner of Tuesday's GOP primary will take office in January. The race is the only statewide office on the Republican primary ballot.
Anthony touts his education and business experience, and has raised his profile in recent years as hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells became a national — and sometimes controversial — issue.
Mitchell said his experience as the commission's top administrator gives him a fresh perspective on the post.
“I've got a lot of people who want good government and who are out there working for me,” Mitchell said. “They just feel like Bob's been there too long.”
Anthony said he's amassed a strong record in his 23 years at the commission, including helping to clean up after a bribery scandal involving Southwestern Bell in the late 1980s and dealing with changes in the long-distance calling market in the 1990s.
More recently, Anthony has spoken to national and international groups about Oklahoma's regulation of hydraulic fracturing.
“Right now, what's most economically important for Oklahoma is the oil and gas industry,” Anthony said. “For it to be under attack for what I call advanced drilling techniques is a place for me to continue the fight and continue the education efforts I've already started.”
Anthony was first elected in 1988 and is a former top executive with the family-owned C.R. Anthony Co. retail chain.
Mitchell, a Seminole native who now lives in Oklahoma City, was an aide to former Corporation Commissioner Jeff Cloud. He also worked in the petroleum storage tank division before taking over as director of administration. Mitchell resigned from that position in January to run for office.
Both Anthony and Mitchell warn against additional federal regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency, saying states are best suited to manage clean water and air.
“The Corporation Commission is the ultimate balancing act because you've got the needs of consumers, the needs of businesses and you have environmental needs,” Mitchell said. “You can't let the pendulum swing too far.”
Modernizing the operations of the Corporation Commission is a goal for both candidates. The sprawling regulatory agency handles everything from oil and gas drilling to trucking, intrastate pipelines and tow trucks. Most consumers know it for the regulation of electric and natural gas utilities.
Anthony said the Legislature has handed the commission additional responsibilities to collect and process fees and taxes. He said the commission needs an internal auditor to help track funds flowing through the agency.
“That gives us new responsibility, and it requires auditing, it requires controls, and it requires accountability,” Anthony said.
Mitchell said the commission needs a new case-tracking system and electronic filing of records.
“The efficiencies gained would be great,” Mitchell said. “We had 29,000 applications filed last year at the commission. Just think if all that could be done electronically. Is there money in the budget for all this? No, but the thing about state government is that it's a process, and you have to have staying power; nothing happens overnight.”
Heading into Tuesday's primary, both candidates said they feel confident of their chances. Anthony points to the endorsements of several newspapers across the state. He's also leading in the money race. Anthony raised more than $347,000 through June 11; Mitchell raised more than $117,000.
The corporation commission post has an annual salary of more than $111,000. Voters in 2010 passed State Question 747, which limits corporation commissioners to two six-year terms. Anthony is eligible for two more six-year terms under SQ 747.