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James Brown: 2020 General Election Q&A

James Brown is the 2020 Republican candidate for public service commisioner region 3.
James Brown is the 2020 Republican candidate for public service commisioner region 3.

Montana Public Radio is gathering information on all statewide general election candidates to publish as a resource for our audience. We asked all the statewide candidates to respond to the following questions via email, limiting their answers to 150 words per question. These are their unedited responses.

James Brown is the 2020 Republican candidate for public service commisioner region 3.

What makes you the best candidate to represent your region on the Public Service Commission and how do you stand out from your opponent(s)?

I stand out from my opponent in two important ways. Unlike my opponent, I do not support deregulation. Incredibly, during the 2019 Montana legislative session, my opponent introduced a bill (H 438) to deregulate Northwestern Energy. Not surprisingly, the bill died quickly and the only proponent of the bill was my opponent. By pushing a rerun of deregulation, my opponent has affirmatively demonstrated he supports a repeat of the worst economic and energy policy disaster in Montana history. How could anyone promote reentering the nightmare that was deregulation and then ask for your vote?

Second, my PSC campaign has been an entirely positive one. Whereas, my opponent’s campaign has consisted of little more than attacking me personally, attacking Montana’s regulated entities, and attacking small businesses. Montanans are tired of the politics of personal destruction. And, with the PSC already beset by personality conflicts and strife, my opponent has shown he does not have the temperament to unite the PSC and to bring the Commission’s focus back on Montana’s families.

What experience do you have in understanding the policy and regulation of electric, natural gas, water, wastewater and telecommunication industries?

The PSC is what is known as a quasi-judicial regulatory body. This means that those who serve as PSC Commissioners are tasked with serving as neutral judges on matters that come before the Commission. Consequently, I am very well-qualified for this legal and regulatory position given that I am a small business owner, employer, and have been a private practice attorney for 16 years. Further, I am well-versed in matters handled by the Commission having represented legal clients who are regulated by the PSC before that government body. I understand the law, and I understand the role of the PSC. Therefore, I will not have to rely on the staff to explain to me what’s going on. I will hit the ground running should I be so fortunate as to be elected to serve as your PSC advocate.

What would be your top three goals as a public service commissioner and how would you accomplish them?

These are my initial goals, in no particular order

  1. I will restore faith in the Commission and the work it performs on behalf of Montanans. As evidenced by recent events, the PSC needs to move away from focusing on its own personality conflicts and petty grievances and move toward once again being a body that promotes Montana-first regulatory policies.
  2. I will work to ensure the Commission complies with its constitutionally mandated duties of ensuring open government and citizen participation. In recent years, Montanans have seen the Commission perform some of its decision-making outside of the public arena and behind closed doors. As your PSC Commissioner, I will jealously protect the right of Montana’s citizens to participate in PSC decision-making.
  3. I will work to ensure what Montana’s ratepayers deserve to have. They deserve to have a PSC that promotes Montana regulatory policies for the consumer that are affordable, reliable and sustainable.

What authorities of a public service commissioner do you believe should be used more or less than previous commissioners? Please provide specific examples.

On the authority side, the specific question of the amount of leeway the Commission has to engage in independent fact-finding (discovery or data requests) in contested cases is an open issue. There is an argument to be made that the PSC can't continue to rely on applicants and intervenors exclusively, to bring out much needed evidence in rate cases. What is more, the PSC needs to better use its existing authority to ensure long-term stability in the area of energy supply and to better strike a balance between the law and justice as litigants are concerned. The purpose of the Commission is not to promote one form of energy production over another or to advance legislative agendas via regulatory fiat. Montana’s ratepayers don’t benefit when decisions are based on political, as opposed to proper regulatory, considerations.

What other issues are important to your campaign? (300 word limit)

I am a strong believer in an all-of-the above strategy for energy production. Montana is called the ‘Treasure State’ because we have an abundance of wind, water, sun, natural gas, etc. All these resources should be and can be used to provide and produce safe, reliable and affordable energy to the Montana consumer. As a fourth-generation Montanan and small business owner, I am a strong advocate for development of the free-market for energy production and transmission; but I also understand the need to protect the energy rate payer and the consumer from monopolistic power. While growing up in Dillon, I can remember a time when Montana had some of the lowest power rates in the nation. Now Montanans pay some of the highest power rates in the nation. This is the result of poor government decision-making and poor long-term energy planning.

Once elected, I pledge to put the interests of Montana energy consumers ahead of out-of-state corporations and special interest groups. I will also work to ensure that Montana’s regulated entities engage in solid business practices that put Montana’s families first.

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