NewsMontana Politics


Public Service Commission District 3 seat up for grabs

Posted at 7:33 PM, Oct 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-18 21:33:16-04

Southwestern Montana’s Public Service Commission District 3 seat is up for grabs this election.

The Public Service Commission is a 5-member panel with several responsibilities, including regulating public utilities, as well as some aspects of transportation and telecommunications.

Jim Brown is a lawyer in Dillon who says much of his legal work over the years has been on issues that come before the Public Service Commission, with clients ranging from small energy producers, to taxis, to garbage disposal companies.

“And in my private legal practice, my primary clients are ranchers because I grew up around ranching, so a portion of my work is I negotiate contracts between ranchers and wind and solar companies,” said Brown.

Democrat Tom Woods is a physics professor at Montana State University and has been a state representative in the Montana Legislature for the last 4 terms.

“In that time in the legislature, I’ve brought over a dozen bills that have to do with the way that utilities are regulated in this state. Because as I see it right now, the system is stacked against the ratepayers,” said Woods.

Both candidates agree: one major goal is to reestablish trust between ratepayers and the Commission after months of ongoing infighting among sitting commissioners.

But there are some fundamental differences between the two.

“Philosophically, we just disagree,” said Brown. “I believe in the free market. I think my opponent believes that he’s gonna use his regulatory position to push certain agendas. And the PSC is supposed to be a neutral body on decision making and not push agendas.”

“My opponent feels that the job of the Public Service Commission is like to be a judge, to just apply the law. That’s not the way I see,” said Woods. “The Public Service Commission is supposed to regulate monopolies. Not just give them what they want.”