Andy Tobin: The story of a cowboy, commissioner and everything in between

He's spent decades in public service, both in and out of government

Andy Tobin has spent the last decade in public office. He has been an Arizona state representative (R), speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, director of the Department of Weights and Measures and is a current commissioner at the Arizona Corporation Commission. 

Tobin has been described as everything from affable to a "drug-store cowboy” by his rivals.

Tobin is one of three Republicans to advance to the Nov. 8 general election for Arizona Corporation Commissioner. Bob Burns, Boyd Dunn and Tobin are the Republicans running for election while former Rep. Tom Chabin and Bill Mundell are the Democrats running for the office.

Tobin’s East Coast roots and his western attire — his cowboy hat, for example — prompted Mundell to call Tobin a “drug-store cowboy,” in a phone interview. 

Mundell called Tobin “one of the biggest phonies I’ve ever met.” Mundell spoke to Tobin's character as a politician, but admitted that he didn’t know Tobin personally.

Andrew Tobin, grandson of Irish immigrants, was born in Manhattan, New York and grew up on Long Island. When remembering his childhood, Tobin leaned his head back, closed his eyes and in a low gravelly voice, recalled his earlier days. He learned the trade of a meat cutter while attending Dowling College.

“I never finished Dowling College because I started making money cutting meat," Tobin said. "That was more important to me back then."

Tobin moved to Arizona in 1979, living in Phoenix for about half that time and in Paulden, a small town in Northern Arizona, for the other half.

On the walls of Tobin’s office, there are no plaques, awards or photos with famous politicians — except for one of him with President Ronald Reagan. A bookshelf is sparsely filled with legal books and dictionaries, along with birthday cards and a photo of Tobin with U.S. Senator John McCain, whom Tobin has known for at least 25 years.

Tobin spoke of the Yarnell fire, a wildfire that in 2013, stole the lives of 19 firefighters near Yarnell, just 60 miles south of Tobin’s home in Paulden and in Tobin’s district while he was a representative.

“When we had the Yarnell fire … the first one to call me was John Mccain, and I think he called from the Ukraine … and he was in Prescott (which is near Yarnell) in 32 hours,” Tobin said.

When Tobin described himself, he sat silently for a moment before saying, “I am absolutely a workaholic, I am a problem solver, I am a listener.” He paused again before adding, “(a) 'don’t try to bullshit me' kind of a person.”

Republican Rep. Rob Robson has been in the Arizona Legislature since before Tobin’s election in 2006.

“He knows how to shake a hand and how to work a room,” Robson said.

Robson shared a lighter side of Tobin.

“In his early days, he definitely liked ice cream," Robson said while describing the way he kept ice cream in his office for newer legislators to take solace in. "(Tobin) left a note ‘Thanks for the ice cream – Andy’ just about every other day."

Tobin is a program director at ASU’s College of Public Service and Community solutions. The Legislative Academy at ASU, which is still in development, will work to train new state legislators.

Jonathan Koppell, the dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, said in a statement that Tobin’s program will “help (legislators) be effective representatives for their constituents, and effective stewards of the state from their first day in office.”

“It is one more way in which ASU is able to help contribute to the civic health of our state,” Koppell said in the statement.

Tobin was appointed as one of the five corporation commissioners by Gov. Doug Ducey in January 2016 after Susan Bitter Smith resigned due to a conflict of interest. Tobin himself deals with accusations of conflict of interest, which he continues to dismiss. Tobin’s job as a commissioner is to regulate utility companies, including energy. 

Tobin’s son-in-law worked for Solar City, an energy company that could be affected by the Commission's decisions.

“There is no direct relation to (Tobin’s son-in-law) in a budget, to him in public policy, even to him and other employees,” Tobin said.

However, Tom Chabin had a different perspective.

“The problem is that his decisions are now tainted no matter how noble and how correct they are," he said. "The integrity of the commission is now under question, even if the decisions he makes are correct.”

Tobin said the conflict is irrelevant because he never voted on any decisions regarding Solar City, and his son-in-law no longer works for the company.

“And nobody wrote a single word about it,” Tobin said with an air of disdain.

He said his brother doesn’t work for Cox’s Telecommunication side, the branch of the corporate giant that would be affected by the Commission’s decisions. Rather, Tobin said his brother works for Cox’s Media side, splicing commercials into TV episodes.

Tobin’s conflict is nonexistent thanks to House Bill 2123, which lowered the ethical standard for the commission, but that won’t stop his opponents from using it against him in the Nov. 8 race.

“The average person, I think, when they really read the conflict … it’s very remote, if at all existent,” Tobin said.

Voters will judge whether Tobin is correct in his assessment.


Reach the reporter at maatenci@asu.edu or follow @mitchellatencio on Twitter.

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