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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, Published June 18 2012

ND Republican PSC candidate may get appointment

BISMARCK – A Republican state senator is eligible for appointment to a recently vacated seat on the North Dakota Public Service Commission while he campaigns for election to a full term because of a constitutional amendment voters approved last week, a governor’s spokesman said.

Sen. Randy Christmann, a Hazen Republican running against Democrat Brad Crabtree for election to the commission, met briefly with Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Monday to discuss his possible appointment to the seat.

Dalrymple hasn’t named a pick, but he intends to appoint someone to serve the roughly six months remaining in the term of Republican Tony Clark, who resigned last week to join the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said Jeff Zent, the governor’s spokesman.

Christmann, the Senate’s assistant Republican majority leader, said he and Dalrymple plan to discuss the seat in greater depth this week, Christmann said.

“I need to evaluate that a little bit. I haven’t decided what my thoughts are on it,” Christmann said. “And, frankly, it’s the governor’s choice.”

Christmann and Crabtree are vying for one of the three seats on the commission, which regulates electric and gas utilities, coal mining and land reclamation, grain elevators, auctioneers and other businesses. Clark had previously said he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Should Christmann get the appointment, he would still need to run for the office this fall, but he would be able to campaign as the incumbent.

The state constitution has long barred any lawmaker from taking a state appointment if the job’s pay rose during the legislator’s term in the House or Senate.

Last week, however, North Dakota voters loosened that restriction by approving Measure 1, a constitutional amendment that received 60 percent support at the polls.

It says a lawmaker may accept a state appointment if the job’s most recent pay increase is in line with average salary rises given to North Dakota government employees.

Last year, the Legislature set aside money to provide state workers average 3 percent raises in 2011 and 2012.

The salaries for the three public service commissioners are going up accordingly. The second 3 percent raise takes effect July 1, which will boost each commissioner’s annual pay from $92,826 to $95,611.

The constitutional change will take effect in a week, when a state canvassing board certifies the election result, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said. It will make Christmann, or any other legislator, eligible for the PSC appointment.

Christmann was a sponsor of Measure 1, which the Legislature voted last year to put on the ballot. Crabtree said Monday he voted for it.

Christmann said at the time of the vote, he wasn’t thinking about running for statewide office.

“Frankly, even a week ago, I wasn’t thinking about this, because I didn’t think that Measure 1 was going to pass,” Christmann said Monday.

Crabtree said Monday he hopes Dalrymple appoints someone with a nonpartisan, professional background to serve out Clark’s term.

Giving the job to Christmann before the election would not necessarily benefit the Republican, Crabtree said. “I don’t know that a few months’ incumbency grants someone an advantage,” Crabtree said.

“Obviously, it’s the governor’s choice, and I don’t want to speculate on what choice he’ll make,” Crabtree said. “But I think we should have the campaign and see what the outcome is.”