Three candidates have emerged to fill a pivotal position on the State Corporation Commission that will open with the retirement of Judge James C. Dimitri at the end of this month.
Senior Assistant Attorney General C. Meade Browder Jr., Richmond attorney and lobbyist David W. Clarke and Christopher Newport University Counsel Maureen Matsen confirmed they have applied for the position, which the General Assembly will fill before the end of the current session.
The candidates are scheduled to come before the commerce and labor committees of each chamber after next week’s crossover, when the House of Delegates and Senate finish consideration of introduced bills and their versions of the state budget, and then begin to act on each other’s surviving legislation.
“Nobody has come with any legislative backers to me,” Senate Commerce and Labor Chairman Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said last week. “They’ve all come in independently.”
The assembly already has re-elected SCC Judge Judith W. Jagdmann on the three-member, quasi-judicial body that is at the center of a political storm over its ability to effectively regulate the rates charged by Virginia’s two biggest electric utilities — Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power Co.
Dimitri — a former member of the SCC staff, the attorney general’s office and McGuireWoods lawyer for Dominion — broke with his colleagues in a pair of dissenting opinions last year that challenged the constitutionality of the utility-backed law adopted in 2015 that effectively suspended regulation of base electric rates in response to the Clean Power Plan proposed by then-President Barack Obama.
The Supreme Court of Virginia upheld the law last fall. But Dominion signaled late last year that it wants to replace the controversial statute with a different form of regulation that would restore some of the SCC’s authority while allowing electric monopolies to invest some of their excess earnings in modernizing the power grid and renewable energy sources.
This week, Gov. Ralph Northam publicly blessed a revised bill that resulted from mediated discussions with utility, consumer and environmental interests, although it is still opposed by the attorney general’s office and large industrial customers.
The three declared candidates for Dimitri’s position all have extensive experience with Virginia regulation and public policy.
Clarke, 62, is a former Richmond law partner of U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, and a lobbyist for interests that include natural gas and energy companies, insurance and health plans, technology firms and public policy groups. His law practice has dealt with companies in insurance, financial services and telecommunications, as well as energy development and real estate.
A Midlothian native and Church Hill resident, he is currently co-member-in-charge of the Richmond office of Eckert Seamans, a national law firm based in Pittsburgh. Previously, Clarke worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for 20 years at Mezzulo & McCandlish, now McCandlish Holton, and eight years at LeClairRyan before moving to Eckert Seamans in 2010. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1977 and University of Richmond’s T.C. Williams School of Law in 1983.
“The position of commissioner of the SCC has always been of great importance for the citizens and businesses regulated by the commission,” Clarke said Tuesday. “Balancing sometimes competing interests of consumers, environmental concerns and the regulated business community is challenging but of critical importance.”
Browder, 55, is chief of the insurance and utilities regulatory section at the attorney general’s office, which is charged by state law with representing consumer interests at the SCC.
A native and resident of Henrico County, he has worked at the attorney general’s office since 2002. Previously, he served for six years as associate general counsel at the SCC, where he was involved with public utility and insurance regulation. He has an economics degree from Wake Forest University and a law degree from T.C. Williams at UR. Between degrees, he worked at Sovran Bank (now Bank of America) in its investment office and at what is now MassMutual insurance company.
Browder declined to comment publicly on his candidacy for the SCC.
Matsen, 59, serves as university counsel at Christopher Newport, where she advises President Paul Trible, a former Virginia congressman and senator, and the board of visitors. Previously, she served as deputy secretary of natural resources and senior energy adviser to then-Gov. Bob McDonnell.
She also served as deputy attorney general under McDonnell, who was then attorney general, as leader of the civil litigation division, including the consumer counsel office and oversight of utility regulation at the SCC. She spent three years as deputy solicitor general under Attorney General Jerry Kilgore.
Matsen was executive director of a blue-ribbon panel on higher education appointed by then-Gov. Jim Gilmore and worked as a litigator at what is now McGuireWoods law firm in Richmond.
“I made the decision to offer myself for the position because I think I have a unique body of experience that has developed the right set of skills,” she said Tuesday.
Those skills includes direct oversight of large state agencies as a Cabinet secretary, which Matsen thinks would be helpful at an institution as large and varied as the SCC.
“Most important, I’ve learned to listen, ask questions, and listen some more,” she said.