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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer, Published July 27 2010

North Dakota Republicans elect PSC’s Clark as new chairman

BISMARCK – North Dakota Republicans elected Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark as the state GOP chairman on Monday, drawing Democratic complaints that the move compromised the integrity of the state regulatory agency.

GOP activists elected Clark, 38, without opposition at a meeting of the party’s state committee in Fargo. Clark succeeds Gary Emineth, who resigned July 1. Emineth said his business interests did not leave him enough time to devote to the volunteer job.

In a statement, Clark said the campaigns of fellow Republicans Gov. John Hoeven, who is running for the U.S. Senate, and Fargo state Rep. Rick Berg, who is running for Congress, “presents our party the opportunity ... to assert fiscal responsibility in Washington, D.C.”

Hoeven is favored to defeat the Democratic candidate, Bismarck state Sen. Tracy Potter, for the seat being vacated by incumbent Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan. Berg is challenging incumbent Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who is seeking his 10th term.

The Public Service Commission regulates gas and electric utilities, pipelines, coal mining and land reclamation, grain elevators, auctioneers, railroads and telephone companies. The commission is a three-member panel that also includes Republicans Kevin Cramer and Brian Kalk.

Mark Schneider, the state Democratic chairman, said Clark was elected to the PSC to be an impartial regulator, “almost like a judge.”

“Tony Clark will now be traveling around the state soliciting donations from the very people that he is supposed to regulate,” Schneider said in an e-mailed statement. “That is a clear conflict of interest that hurts the integrity of the Public Service Commission at a time when it is already more partisan than ever. ... We can’t have the Republican Party being run out of the North Dakota Capitol.”

Clark said the job will not affect his work on the PSC and he intends to step down as GOP chairman shortly after the November elections.

“I’ve already had to handle the balance of both raising money for a campaign and governing at the same time,” Clark said. “This is really nothing new for me, nor is it anything new for any statewide official.”

Clark is serving his second six-year term on the commission, to which he was elected in 2000.

Cramer, a former state Republican chairman and party director, is running for his second term on the commission against Democrat Brad Crabtree.

“My opponent, Kevin Cramer, and his fellow commissioners have lost sight of the critical independent, nonpartisan role a responsible regulatory agency must play,” Crabtree said. “They have debased the Public Service Commission in the process.”

Cramer said Crabtree was objecting in part to the commissioners’ vocal opposition to federal regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, which Crabtree has supported.

“When we were all elected, everybody knew that we were Republicans,” Cramer said. “Part of why they elect us is because they prefer our philosophy to his philosophy, and our governing to the way he would govern.”