In the Montana Public Service Commission races, Anne Bukacek narrowly won Derek Skees by 57 votes. Incumbent Randy Pinocci easily won his race to represent Eastern Montana.
Returns in District 5 plummeted like this for Republicans: Anne Bukacek with 10,497 votes, Derek Skees 10,440, Joe Dooling 9,243 and Dean Crabb 2,931.
In the Democratic primary, Whitefish resident John Repke got 7,722 votes and Helena’s Kevin Hamm got 6,519 votes.
District 5 includes Flathead, Lake, Lewis and Clark and Teton counties, with Flathead typically delivering half of the votes in previous Republican primaries. Three of the Republican candidates are from Kalispell, a mix that is sure to dilute the home country advantage for all three. The only Republican who is not from Kalispell is Dooling, from Helena.
Incumbent Brad Johnson of Helena was barred from running due to term limits.
Montana is one of the few states in the country to elect its utility commissioners, the people who balance customer rates and reliable service with the fixed rate of return of a monopoly. The only requirement for the position is that candidates be of voting age and live in their constituency. Base salary is $112,444 plus benefits.
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In PSC District 1, a sprawling 22-county district that stretches 58 miles from Browning to Sidney, GOP challenger K. Webb Galbreath of Browning won 9,764 votes to Sun incumbent Pinocci’s 18,198 River. It is rare for PSC incumbents to lose their seat.
The commissioner of the PSC is a little-known job that has a big impact on Montanese household budgets, although in recent years commission scandals have come to public and government attention. Pinocci played a role in these scandals, which Galbreath was quick to point out.
Anyone who receives electricity or gas service from a company other than a cooperative pays monthly energy rates approved by the PSC. The commission also regulates taxi services, certain telecommunications, pipelines and garbage services.
With respect to inflation, such as the more than 40% increase in natural gas prices that Montanans faced this winter, it is the PSC that determines, on a monthly basis, whether the increase is warranted. and whether utilities cover unavoidable costs, not price gouging. .
The commission is quasi-judicial. The cases it hears are handled much like a civil court proceeding, with arguments and evidence filed by multiple parties and an order issued by the commission at the end. PSC decisions have lasting impacts on utility customers and Montana’s economy. As monopoly utilities acquire power plants and infrastructure, their customers commit to incurring long-term debt to pay for those assets, while also paying for maintenance, operation, and repairs.