Schwarzenegger appoints Republican businessman to PUC

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Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger filled a four-month-old vacancy on the influential California Public Utilities Commission by appointing John Bohn, a fellow Republican with a diverse background in finance, law, technology, public relations and the government.

Bohn, 67, is expected to be sworn in before the PUC‘s Thursday meeting, giving the state’s top energy and telecommunications regulator a full slate of five commissioners for the first time this year.

Schwarzenegger picked Bohn on Monday after a previous appointment of another Republican businessman, Steve Poizner, fell through. Poizner was never sworn in to the PUC because he held telecommunications investments that raised conflict-of-interest issues, a problem that led him to withdraw his candidacy last month.

Although Bohn can start voting on PUC matters as soon as he is sworn in, the state Senate still must approve his six-year term, which pays an annual salary of $114,191.

Contacted Monday, Bohn declined to be interviewed.

With oversight of telecommunications, power and water utilities, the PUC has final say on a wide variety of pricing and service issues that affect millions of households and businesses throughout the state.

Bohn has juggled a wide variety of jobs in his career, but this will be his first foray into utility regulation. He became friendly with the Schwarzenegger administration last year after helping sell the bonds that temporarily closed the state’s budget deficit, said Bob Roberts, one of Bohn’s oldest friends.

Roberts, executive director for the California Ski Industry Association, predicted Bohn will help Schwarzenegger reshape the state’s energy policies. “He has the intellectual capacity and credibility to do that,” Roberts said. “If (Schwarzenegger) wanted someone who would just vote ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on pricing issues, he would have picked someone else.”

In a statement, Schwarzenegger said Bohn’s broad experience enables him to understand how the state’s regulatory policies affect investment decisions. “His expertise in this area will be invaluable,” Schwarzenegger said.

Since 2001, Bohn has been chairman of GlobalNet Venture Partners, a consulting firm that helps startups get off the ground. On its Web site, GlobalNet said its customers include an unnamed startup developing technology “that provides more rapid and complex evaluation and analysis of energy information than is currently available in the market.”

That business relationship might raise a conflict-of-interest that prevents Bohn from voting on pivotal PUC issues affecting the energy market, said Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a consumer rights group.

Bohn also spent eight years as chief executive of Moody’s Investor Service, one of the nation’s major credit rating firms, before co-founding an online trading exchange for the chemical industry during the late 1990s.

His resume also includes several jobs in President Reagan’s administration, as well as stints as a lawyer and public relations executive for Burson-Marsteller in New York. Bohn also is friends with former Gov. Pete Wilson, Roberts said.

Bohn’s appointment frustrated The Utility Reform Network, a consumer watchdog group that had hoped Schwarzenegger fill the open PUC slot with a minority or a representative from a low-income community.

“Bohn’s resume is impressive, but it’s not like the PUC is lacking people who can represent the interests of investors,” said Robert Finkelstein, TURN’s executive director. “We think what the PUC really needed was someone who could make sure a full array of consumer issues will be heard.”

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