At least two candidates have already stepped forward saying they intend to run for the Public Service Commission seat being vacated by Chairman Bill Gallagher at the end of the year.
Gallagher announced this week he would not be seeking re-election to the seat he has held for the last three years after learning pancreatic cancer he had been diagnosed with last Summer had spread to his liver.
Former state representative and Republican candidate for State Auditor Derek Skees said in an interview Friday he has been talking with Gallagher for the last few months and decided to run only when Gallagher announced his plans. Skees said his interest in utility regulation was sparked while serving in the 2011 Legislature.
"It's fascinating to me I'm just really excited about it,” Skees said. “It's amazing how little we really focus on energy in Montana and how critical it is to families and businesses."
Skees said he would rely on his conservative, free-market oriented principles on the commission. He believes the state has a problem with over-regulation and that extends to utilities.
"Let's look at how we regulate things, why they're regulated, what their actual benefit is to the consumer and or the citizen of Montana, versus what they cost us to do," Skees said.
Currently-serving, four-term Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh (D-Helena) also said he will be running for the open PSC seat. Hollenbaugh cites his 8 years on the House Appropriations Committee as evidence of his desire to seek input from all sides of an issue to find solutions. He said he planned to run for the office whether or not Commissioner Gallagher decided to run for re-election.
"There is no better body in the state of Montana when it comes to looking after the consumer's pocket book than the Public Service Commission," Hollenbaugh said.
Hollenbaugh said it’s the commission’s job to ensure the cheapest, most secure and most reliable utility service possible.
"It is the Public Service Commission’s job to stand in front of the utilities to say you must prove to the people whose bills you're about to increase that you're doing it for their good, not for your good,” Hollenbaugh said.
Both will be running for Gallagher’s District 5 seat, which includes Lewis and Clark, Flathead, Lake, Glacier, Pondera and Teton Counties.
Former Republican Sec. of State Brad Johnson told Lee Newspapers Reporter Mike Dennison he too is considering a run for the seat, if he doesn’t run for the open congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Steve Daines.
2014 Montana candidates can officially file for office on January 9th.