| The campaigns for Public Service Commissioner are one of those crucial 2010 election stories I've neglected on LiTW. (And if there are others you feel strongly about, write! a! Diary!) PSC 5 - pitting Ken Toole against Bill Gallagher - and PSC 1 - pitting Travis Kavulla against Don Ryan - are going to nail-biters, and could decide the composition and majority of the Public Service Commission. Here's the Bloomsbury Businessweek on the races:
Republicans are eying a rare chance to take control of the Montana Public Service Commission, the body that regulates utilities, in an election year in which their brand of politics seems to be riding high.
But over the last 30 years, Democrats have been favored by voters in the role of policing the utility businesses. The Republicans last took control of the PSC in 2002, and that was only for a couple of years....
Democrats hold four of the five seats on the commission, with Brad Molnar, of Billings, the sole Republican. The GOP would have to win both races to take control, likely placing Molnar in the role of chairman.
Brad Molnar. As chairman. The Brad Molnar.
Mull that over people.
Anyhoo - I want to talk about Ken Toole. You know the guy: fierce consumer advocate, opponent of the disastrous energy deregulation. Exactly the kind of commissioner the state needs, one who looks out after ratepayers first.
Well, his opponent has gone negative in a pretty strong way, using gays as a wedge. From a letter Gallagher sent out:
n 2004 Ken Toole, then Executive Director for the Montana Human Rights Network, joined with other "Pride" organizations and formed a group called Montanans for Families and Fairness to oppose CI-96, the one man + one woman = marriage amendment.
So far no problem. BUT, then the group sent intimidating letters to hundreds of protestant and catholic churches in Montana threatening them with IRS and election problems, and warning the churches not to support of CI-96.
Next, the group sent an infiltrator to the Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church where, in an evening service, they presented a Montana Family Foundation simulcast event titled "The Battle for Marriage" and made petitions supporting CI-96 available to those attending the event.
The group followed through with their threat and filed a complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practice which began a legal battle that finally ended in 2009, when the US 9th Circuit held that the Church's first amendment rights had indeed been violated and that the charges amounted to "petty bureaucratic harassment."
The result, Montana tax payers paid all the legal expenses, including $225,000 inserted into the 2009 MT Appropriations bill HB-003. That's right! We the taxpayers paid a $225,000 bailout for what Toole's group started!
Where to start? How about with an analysis (pdf) of the 9th Circuit Court decision? Which explains that the Commissioner of Political Practices found validity in the MHRN's complaint, calling the church an "incidental political committee," and the subsequent appeal to the district court was rejected. The Ninth Circuit overturned the decision, criticizing the law, not MHRN, because the church's expenditures were so small, it wasn't worth reporting and cases against small political donors would discourage small donors from participating in the public process. What's not mentioned here is the church's tax-exempt status, which comes at the cost of that church not participating in political activities - which it clearly was in this case, as all parties agree.
Got it? The MHRN was monitoring churches to see if they were hiding behind their tax-exempt status while engaging in political activity around the anti-gay-marriage initiative. And they were.
The next question that should come to you should be, what the h*ll does this have to do with the PSC? The answer, of course, is "nothing."
Which makes sense, given how inexperienced and unsuited Gallagher is for the PSC. That's probably why Gallagher is calling Toole a "career politician," which is another way of saying Toole was once chair of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications committee...that's, well, pretty closely related to the job he's doing now, to say the least. Gallagher's also against "any other irresponsible 'global plan' based on questionable 'science'," and calls Toole a "devoted 'global warming disciple'" and accused him of supporting a "socialist version of the Cap and Trade policy."
That's right! A Denier and conspiracy theorist!
Turns out Gallagher also manages a Helena water and sewer utility that's "owned" by a LLC registered in Nevada, allowing both companies - which Gallagher has ownership stake in - to evade Montana taxes. Which gives you an idea of what kind of consumer advocate he'd be.
You're probably now asking yourself how a clown like Gallagher even won his party's nomination for the race. Well, that was the race Brad Johnson punted after blowing a 0.24 BAC in a May traffic stop.
Naturally Gallagher's endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce.
Donate to Ken Toole, or contact him to see how you can help out.