- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The race for Public Service Commission Chairman Bill Gallagher’s seat on Nov. 4 pits a former secretary of state against a four-term state legislator.

Republican Brad Johnson of East Helena, who was secretary of state from 2005-2008, said he wants to make sure Montanans have access to utilities that are affordable, reliable and sustainable. The five-member PSC regulates utility companies in the state.

“When I say sustainable we’ve got to keep in mind that a utility rate increase in the short term can be in the best interest for consumers in the long term,” Johnson said.

He said he most likely would have supported the deal PSC recently approved for NorthWestern Energy to buy 11 hydroelectric dams for $900 million and charge the cost to its electricity customers.

Johnson also said he’s adamantly opposed to the EPA’s proposed emissions standards for new coal-fired plants.

Democrat State Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh of Helena said his four terms serving on the House Appropriations Committee dealing with state budgets and asking tough questions is what the PSC board needs now.

“I’m running because I think Montanans need more affordable power,” Hollenbaugh said. “The current commission has done nothing but rubber stamp rate increases, giving profits to them while sticking it to consumers.”

He said the dam purchase plan is good for consumers because he believes energy companies should own entities that produce power, but he said the deal as approved doesn’t put enough responsibility on the company.

“PSC needs to be considering families and small businesses before they start considering the corporate bottom line,” he said. “I just didn’t see them doing that and I will bring that voice to the table.”

Gallagher is not seeking re-election after being diagnosed with cancer. His western Montana district includes Lewis and Clark, Lake, Flathead, Glacier, Pondera and Teton counties.

Republican Travis Kavulla is running unopposed for his District 1 seat.

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