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Associated Press, Published December 23 2008

Longtime PSC member Wefald stepping down

BISMARCK – Public Service Commissioner Susan Wefald, who is leaving the PSC job after 16 years, says her time on the commission was a time of deregulation, something that may be changing.

With the slide in the national economy, more government regulation is being discussed, Wefald said.

“This is the first swing that I’ve seen in recent months that perhaps we need more regulation,” she said.

“There needs to be a balance between the marketplace and regulation, especially where you have monopolies and where you don’t have sufficient competition.”

Wefald, 61, is stepping down this month from the three-member commission where she serves as president.

She is known as a consumer advocate who is not shy about pushing for government oversight of telecommunications, railroads and other industries overseen by the commission.

After three statewide elections, Wefald said, she wants to get out of politics. She said she couldn’t stomach the idea of another year of campaigning.

Wefald’s colleagues, Kevin Cramer and Tony Clark, say she was more likely than they were to advocate for more government oversight.

Clark, who was first elected to the panel in 2000, described his philosophy as: “Let actors act in the marketplace; if they violate law, you come in and slap their hands.”

Cramer, who was appointed to the commission in 2003 and elected in 2004, said he disagreed with Wefald last year when she took issue with Great River Energy for the company’s proposal for a 99-megawatt coal-fired power plant, one megawatt shy of the 100 megawatts needed for a hearing under the PSC.

“That’s a situation where I philosophically disagreed with her,” Cramer said. “I think my comment to her was the highway patrol doesn’t pick people up for doing 74 mph in a 75 mph speed limit.”

Still, Cramer said of Wefald: “She’s probably the hardest-working public official I know.”

Dean Hulse, who also volunteers for the Dakota Resource Council, an environmental-advocacy group, said he remembers Wefald as the commissioner who asked the power companies the toughest questions.

“She’s been, without a doubt, an advocate for the consumer throughout her career on the Public Service Commission,” Hulse said.

Wefald is a licensed social worker. Before getting into politics, she worked for the Village Family Service Center, where she counseled families on how to manage credit card debt.

“And that’s before they say credit card debt got really bad,” she said.

She said her future plans are not set but she is keeping her options open.

Wefald is the only woman to serve on the PSC. She said the industries it regulates are still dominated by men.

“I had to really work hard so people wouldn’t say, ‘Well, a woman can’t do that job,” she said.

She would like to see more women involved in politics in North Dakota.

“It’s important for North Dakotans to see people of both sexes, different races, different backgrounds, in leadership positions in state government,” Wefald said. “Because it proves that government is more inclusive and is looking out for their interests, as well, and not just the interests of white men.”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Information from: Bismarck Tribune, www.bismarcktribune.com