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Anne Boyle, Published August 08 2010

Clark as chairman not unique

Recently, there have been comments about North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark surrounding his election as Republican Party state chairman.

I am writing to provide an insight as one who has walked a mile in his shoes. For full disclosure, I met Clark shortly after he was elected to the North Dakota commission in 2000. Both of us are people of the Plains and members of the National Association of Utility Commissioners and its telecommunications committee, where he served as its chairman.

In a recent article, the North Dakota Democratic nominee for Public Service Commission correctly stated that “North Dakotans have the expectation that their PSC commissioners will review the facts of a case and apply the law in an objective, transparent and nonpartisan fashion.” He went on to say, however, “that the public cannot trust in the PSC when one of its members is publicly serving and advocating for the interests of a particular political party.”

Not only do I absolutely disagree, his comment flies in the face of common sense. Why? Our work is not partisan. Further, our work is dictated by federal and state legislative bodies, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and many other public bodies. We must abide by open-meeting laws and provide public notices of our hearings. The PSC is not the same as but akin to a judicial body. Thus, we must look at our work objectively.

Clark and I agree and sometimes disagree on policy matters. However, we are very different in one respect. He is a Republican. I am a Democrat, actually, a fourth-generation elected official, all Democrats. I was nominated in the 1996 Democratic primary election, elected in the general election to the Nebraska PSC, and have been re-elected twice.

In June 1998, I was elected chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party and served as chairwoman for over three years, contrary to Clark, who will serve a little over three months. Several years later, I wrote a bimonthly for the City Weekly, often speaking out on behalf of Democratic candidates and issues that reflect Democratic Party positions.

The Nebraska Republican Party, its officeholders or candidates never made public comment regarding my partisan commitment, nor did they ever attempt to attach partisan motives to my work at the PSC. As an aside, I was chairwoman of the Democratic Party during the 1998 and 2000 elections.

It is not uncommon for elected officials to serve their political party on federal, state and local boards and committees. At the same time, they must serve their offices within the parameters of their responsibilities. Respectfully, as a longtime participant and observer of politics, I suggest that this attack only distracts the electorate from the very important issues that pertain to the office. Incumbent officeholders establish a public record that is fair game for discussion. However, this attack on Clark and by extension, the North Dakota PSC, is unwarranted.

Boyle has been a Nebraska public service commissioner since 1997. She was chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party from 1998 to 2001.