A state legislator and former legislator – one Democrat, one Republican – confirmed Thursday that they’re running for the state Public Service Commission seat being vacated by Commissioner Bill Gallagher of Helena.
Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh, D-Helena, said he’ll be running this year in PSC District 5, which covers six northwestern Montana counties, as did former state Rep. Derek Skees, a Republican from Whitefish.
Republican Brad Johnson of East Helena, a former secretary of state, also said Thursday he’ll take a look at the race – although his political “Plan A” has been to run for the state’s open congressional seat.
“Up until now, I hadn’t considered (the PSC) an option,” Johnson said. “Gallagher’s announcement creates an opportunity for me to re-evaluate the whole situation.”
Gallagher, 54, who has pancreatic cancer, announced Wednesday he would not run for re-election this year.
The first-term Republican said his fight against cancer would limit his effectiveness during a second term. He said he wants to concentrate on doing his job at the PSC for the rest of his current term and spending time with his family.
The five-member PSC regulates electric, gas, telephone and water utilities in the state.
Gallagher won election to District 5 in 2010. His term expires next January. His district includes Helena, Polson, Kalispell and the Rocky Mountain Front.
Both Hollenbaugh and Skees said they’d been looking at the race before Gallagher made his announcement on Wednesday.
Hollenbaugh, 45, who can’t run for re-election to his House seat because of term limits, said he’d already planned to run for the PSC seat. He’s been in the Legislature representing central Helena since 2007.
He said the PSC should ensure that utility consumers have “the cheapest, most effective service.”
Skees, 45, a contractor in Whitefish, said he’s been talking to Gallagher about the race for several months and wouldn’t have run unless Gallagher chose not to.
Skees said he sees the PSC as being on the “front line “ of state energy policy, and that as commissioner, he’d be trying to influence legislation to encourage more energy development in Montana.
Skees served as a state representative from Whitefish for one term, from 2011-2012, and lost a statewide race last year to Democratic state Auditor Monica Lindeen.
Johnson said he’ll be considering whether to run for the PSC or the U.S. House and decide which one within the next two weeks.