Douglas Kary (R-Senate District 22) has acknowledged to the Montana Daily Gazette that he’ll be introducing legislation to repeal the process to elect Public Service Commissioners and instead have them appointed by the governor. This seems like a profoundly bad idea and a grave strategical error for conservatism.
According to reports, Montana’s new Speaker of the House, Wylie Galt (R-House District 30), has suggested in closed-door meetings that the newly elected GOP super-majority should “take it easy” this session to allow Greg Gianforte some time to settle into his new role as Montana’s Governor. The notion seems like a profoundly bad idea, if the rumor is true; capitalizing on Montana’s Red Wave and undoing fifteen years of damage by two concurrent Democratic governors ought to be at the top of the majority party’s legislative agenda…and that agenda should be full.
But Galt’s alleged bad idea isn’t necessarily the worst yet proposed by Republican lawmakers who don’t quite understand what it means to make hay while the sun shines. The award for worse idea yet (there will no doubt be many more to come) goes to Doug Kary.
Although the Montana Daily Gazette has only heard slight scuttlebutt about his plans, we reached out to Kary and asked him directly if he was planning to propose legislation to take away the election of Public Service Commissioners.
When asked, “Doug, are you proposing legislation to make the PSC appointed by the governor?” he confirmed with a thumbs-up emoji and has not yet responded to a request for an interview.
WHAT IS THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION?
The Public Service Commission is one of the smallest and least-expensive agencies in the Montana State government. Divided into five districts across the state, each district votes for one commissioner to serve their district. The commissioners advocate for the utility rate-payer with the states’ various private-owned public utilities. The commissioners oversee electric, natural gas, water, waste-water, and legacy telecommunication companies and balance the needs of rate-payers with the need for expanding services. They also regulate taxi services, pipelines, and the railroad industry.
WHY ARE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONERS ELECTED?
From 1907, Public Service Commissioners were elected statewide and in 1974, they began to be elected by district (they also increased commissioners from three to five that year). The reason they are elected is clear; utility, energy, and rail infrastructure are expensive and take decades to become efficient. If the Public Service Commissioners were appointed by the state governor, it is highly likely that Montana’s energy industry would be subject to the political whims of partisan politics, which would have catastrophic consequences for the stability of these important industries. Because elections of PSC Commissioners are staggered, it is much less likely that the state’s energy goals and industry would be adversely affected by a single election, allowing rate-payers to have predictable, sustainable stability and energy independence.
WHY WOULD POPULAR ELECTIONS FOR THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION BE REPEALED
We are unaware the reasoning behind Senator Kary’s legislation, but we hope that he will grant the Montana Daily Gazette an interview to explain himself. Ostensibly, one reason could be a long saga of dramatic events caused by a bizarre coalition between PSC Commissioner Roger Koopman and Montana’s liberal media, made most evident by a series of Yellow Journalism articles this year published by the Billings Gazette. It could be that some Republicans are tiring of what they perceive to be a source of unnecessary drama.
Kary is not a RINO Republican according to his Legistats score. The senator has an A rating from the impartial party loyalty scorecard aggregator. But that Kary seems to be a conservative has other conservatives raising their eyebrow at a move that would disempower the commission and place its oversight into the hands of who might one day be a Democrat governor.
WHY DOES REPEALING ELECTIONS FOR PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONERS SEEM LIKE AN EXTREMELY BAD IDEA?
After having a Democrat governor from 2005 to 2020, Montana has a lot to be thankful for in regard to how the Public Service Commission currently operates. As states like California can testify, giving the governor’s office oversight of the energy and utility industry will usually lead to unfathomable rate increases in the name of environmental extremism. While Governor-Elect Gianforte will almost certainly reject environmental extremism, there is no guarantee that the next governor will seriously consider the needs of industry and the consumer over and against catastrophizing environmental predictions.
If Montana’s lawmakers would like to explain their reasoning for this forthcoming legislation and would care to explain it, please call the Montana Daily Gazette news tip line.