Mark Sweeney, who ran for state Public Service Commission in 2012 and narrowly lost a Democratic primary, said Tuesday he’s running again in 2016 -- but this time, in a different district, in western Montana.
Sweeney, a former manager of the state-owned Washoe Park Fish Hatchery in Anaconda, ran in 2012 in PSC District 3, which covers southwestern and parts of south-central Montana.
He lost the Democratic primary to then-Commissioner John Vincent of Gallatin Gateway, who later lost the general election to Republican Roger Koopman.
But Sweeney has since moved to Philipsburg, which is part of PSC District 4, so he’ll be running as a Democrat challenging incumbent Republican Commissioner Bob Lake of Hamilton.
“I think the PSC is out-of-balance politically, being dominated by Republicans in all five of its positions,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I think they need some diversity.”
The five-person PSC regulates electric, gas, telephone and water utilities in Montana, setting rates for hundreds of thousands of Montana utility consumers. It also can influence energy policy in the state.
PSC District 4 includes seven counties in western and northwestern Montana, stretching from Libby to Hamilton. Missoula accounts for most of its voters, but the district also includes the towns of Deer Lodge, Thompson Falls, Superior and Philipsburg.
Lake, a former state legislator from Hamilton, won the District 4 seat in the 2012 election, when Republicans swept all three PSC elections and forged a 5-0 majority on the commission.
Sweeney, who turns 56 today, said he’s starting his 2016 campaign early because he knows the presidential and gubernatorial race will dominate the election news next year, and he wants to travel the district to meet voters and talk to them about what the PSC does.
Sweeney said he’d like to work closely with the administration of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock on energy policy, but that his primary focus as commissioner would be representing consumer interests.
“We’d look at whatever the utility brings in for rate (requests), but my vote would be based most importantly on what’s important to the consumer, and how it would affect rates,” he said. “I want to make sure the consumer has a seat at the table and that our interests are represented, and I think I can do that better than anybody.”
Sweeney also said he has a good background and deep interest in public service.
Born in Butte, Sweeney grew up in Miles City and got a degree in natural resource management from Western Montana College in 1982. He spent 26 years working at the Anaconda fish hatchery, the last eight years as manager.
He stepped down in 2012 when he decided to run for the PSC. He also spent two terms as an Anaconda-Deer Lodge County commissioner, ending that stint in 2012 as well.
Sweeney now works as a real estate broker with an office on Georgetown Lake, but works all over the state, he said.