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Published December 15 2011

2 GOP lawmakers running for PSC

BISMARCK – Republican state lawmakers from Hazen and Fargo confirmed Thursday that they are entering the race for Public Service Commission.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Randy Christmann of Hazen made it official with news conferences in Fargo and Bis­marck. Rep. Blair Thoreson, R-Fargo, said he plans to officially announce his entry into the race next week.

Both are vying for the seat now held by Republican Tony Clark, who announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2012. No Democratic candidates have entered the race yet. Party spokeswoman Alison Kelly said a few people have expressed interest but said they were not ready to reveal names.

The Public Service Commission has varying de­grees of authority over electric and gas utilities, telecommunications companies, power plant, transmission line and pipeline siting, railroads, grain elevators, auctioneers and auction clerks, weighing and measuring devices, pipeline safety and coal mine reclamation.

Commissioners serve six-year terms. The salary is now $92,826 and will rise to $95,611 after June 30.

Christmann said he’s considered running for a seat on the three-member commission for several years and believes his background prepares him for what he called his “dream job.”

Christmann is a rancher who has served in the North Dakota Senate since 1994 and has been the assistant Senate majority leader since 2000. Christmann, who represents the area of the state known as Coal Country, is also a director for the North Dakota Association of Telecommunications Cooperatives.

He said his work on the Public Service Commission budget as a state senator has prepared him for the role because he’s had an opportunity to work with the other commissioners and the agency’s staff.

Christmann said the job would allow him to have an impact on areas important to him.

The decisions made by the commission in the coming years are going to affect thousands of jobs, tax revenue, and the availability of affordable and dependable energy, he said.

Thoreson said he’s also interested in the wide range of issues under the agency’s umbrella.

“The goal is to regulate just enough to make sure businesses can do the job they need to do, not to have an overreaching hand,” Thoreson said. “We have enough of that going on in Washington, D.C., right now.”

Thoreson owns Three Lyons Pub in West Fargo and is chairman of the government operations division of House Appropriations. Through his legislative work, he said he’s also gotten to know the other public service commissioners and the agency’s staff.

Thoreson spent 14 years working in the telecommunications industry and received the Lignite Public Service Award from the Lignite Energy Council last year. Thoreson said Christmann is a friend and he expects that their campaigns to receive the Republican endorsement will be a “good-spirited competition among friends.”

Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.