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Senate Showdown With Kasich, Panel Rejects PUCO Nominee

Andy Chow
Ohio Senate Public Utilities Committee holds vote to reject Gov. John Kasich’s nominee to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in the Ohio Statehouse.";

There seems to be friction among the Republican Party’s top leaders as the Senate rejects a major appointment by Gov. John Kasich. 

Months of tension between the Senate and Gov. Kasich over his nomination of Columbus lawyer Howard Petricoff to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio reached a tipping point when a committee voted to reject Petricoff.

The Senate is called to advise and consent on gubernatorial nominations. Usually these committee votes are just a formality and most appointments go through unscathed.

But Republican Senate President Keith Faber, of Celina, has said Petricoff would have too many conflicts of interest as a commissioner because of his time advocating for different energy groups.

Fellow Republican Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati echoed that sentiment during the committee meeting.

“There were concerns about the process by which this has come to us and there were concerns about the number of recusals that he would have to be engaged in by the important business of the Public Utilities Commission,” said Seitz.

But several lawmakers don’t agree with that argument, including Democratic Senator Lou Gentile of Steubenville.

“This is somebody who has worked extensively in public utilities law and yes as a result of that he has interacted with folks that he may be in a position to have to regulate but to your point how else do you develop the kind of expertise and experience needed,” Gentile said.

Many advocates who work on energy issues were there to see the committee vote against Petricoff’s nomination, including Rob Kelter with Environmental Law and Policy Center. He says he’s not buying the explanation posed by Republicans.

“They owe the public an explanation as to what that means and to why somebody as qualified as Howard Petricoff was voted down,” said Kelter.

There have been rumblings at the Statehouse that Faber was unhappy with Kasich’s pick all the way back in June. Petricoff is a Democrat. But there have been suggestions that it stems from Kasich’s veto of a Senate elections bill just days before he announced Petricoff’s nomination.

However, Faber rebuked any suggestion that this was personal.

“This isn’t about the relationship between Keith Faber and John Kasich, it’s not the relationship between the Senate and the governor, it’s not even about the relationship between the Senate and Howard Petricoff. This is about the constitutional process and this transcends personal issues,” Faber said.

The vote from the Senate Public Utilities Committee is just a rejection to recommend the nominee. The full Senate Chamber would have to hold a vote to completely deny the appointment.

Some believe it won’t even get that far and Petricoff will instead pull his name from consideration.

If the General Assembly ends without the Senate holding a full chamber vote on Kasich’s nominee, then the appointment is automatically upheld. The PUCO is a five-member body. Petricoff has been an active member of the commission and sitting in on meetings since his appointment.

The last time the Senate denied a gubernatorial appointment was in 2010 when they rejected Cathy Collins-Taylor, Gov. Ted Strickland’s nominee for director of the Department of Public Safety.

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