Critics say Gov. Mike Leavitt's nominee for the Public Service Commission is no friend of consumers and would not provide political counterbalance for the commission, as the law prescribes.

Leavitt nominated Constance B. White, executive director of the Department of Commerce, last week. Senators have until March 1, the last day of the 1995 Legislature, to approve or reject the nomination.White would replace James Byrne, who has served 12 years and is departing two years into a six-year term. The commission regulates electrical, natural gas and telephone utilities.

"There are other, more qualified people available to do the job," said Claire Geddes, Utah director of Ross Perot's civic-action group, United We Stand, America.

Tim Funk of the Crossroads Urban Center called it a critical nomination and questioned whether White would be fair to consumers.

When she took over the state commerce department, she ousted consumer champion Joe Ingles, former director of the Committee on Consumer Services, which caused a furor among consumer groups.

White said she appointed a highly qualified replacement for someone who had 14 years to make his mark. "It was time for fresh blood, and the fresh blood has served (consumers) very well," White said.

A lawyer, White worked with the Utah Small Business Advisory Council, the White House Conference on Small Business, the Utah State Bar and the North America Securities Administrators Association before joining the state.

Supporters include consumer advocate Francine Giani, who serves under White as director of the state's Division of Consumer Protection. "She has skills unmatched," Giani said. "She has a grasp of the issues, and understands consumers."

Leavitt promoted White from department legal counsel to executive director when he was elected in 1992.

"I have been impressed by her good judgment on tough issues and by her leadership in problem solving," Leavitt said Thursday in announcing White's nomination.