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Governor Brown promotes Michael Picker to CPUC president

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Michael Picker moves up.

Michael Picker is the new president of the California Public Utilities Commission, assuming the California senate endorses the promotion announced this afternoon by governor Jerry Brown.

Picker first took a seat on the commission in February. He was working for Brown as an energy policy aide and chosen to fill the position left vacant when Mark Ferron resigned for health reasons. With a background in the environmental arena, he’s worked for the mayor of Sacramento, in the state treasurer’s office and as a political consultant. He was elected to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District board of directors in 2012, and stepped down from that position earlier this year to join the CPUC.

In making the choice, Brown seems to be opting for someone with political skills and experience with energy issues. Picker has both.

For the past 11 months, he’s been the quietest of the commissioners, typically refraining from commenting on his reasons for voting one way or the other. In the commission’s most contentious vote this year, Picker opposed putting the CPUC on record as supporting common carrier regulation of the broadband industry, saying he wanted more time to consider the matter.

That reticence has faded in the past few weeks. He spoke up a couple of meetings ago, to scold consumer advocacy groups and electric utilities for dragging out decisions, then and in comments on subsequent issues, citing his experience on the SMUD board. He spoke against a proposal by outgoing president Michael Peevey to limit monthly charges for opting out of smart meter programs to 3 years at last week’s meeting, although he eventually joined the majority in voting for it.

As Picker begins a full 6 year term as president, the seat he’s leaving will be filled by Liane Randolph, who, according to Brown’s statement, “has served in several positions at the California Natural Resources Agency since 2011, including deputy secretary and general counsel”. Before that, she was a practicing attorney and served as chair of the state’s fair political practices commission.

Picker certainly has a different personna than Peevey. With a career in public policy, environmental activism and political operations, the substance of Picker’s work is likely to be significantly different as well.

Picker and Randolph begin their new jobs on 1 January 2015, but the first opportunity to see them in action will likely be at the CPUC’s next meeting, two weeks later on the 15th.