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Monica Tranel: 2020 General Election Q&A

Monica Tranel
Monica Tranel is the 2020 Democratic candidate for public service commissioner region 4.

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.

Monica Tranel is the 2020 Democratic candidate for public service commissioner region 4.

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

I have two decades of experience working with the PSC and fighting for fair utility rates in front of the courtroom and the commission. I understand the highly technical and complex work and am committed to evaluating the evidence and information presented to ensure Montanans are treated fairly, and that facts, science, and the law guide the PSC’s decisions.

The five GOP commissioners have abandoned Montanans in favor of the monopolies they regulate. They have not followed facts, science, or the law when making decisions that have resulted in a direct blow to our local economies. My opponent offers more of the same -- as a senator she failed to show up for Montanans, skipping out on 17% of the session.

The PSC shouldn’t be a stepping stone in a politician’s political career. It should be occupied by somebody who is committed to understanding the job, working hard and serving Montanans. 

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

I have over twenty years of legal experience working directly with PSC issues, including electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, and telecommunications. I’ve worked as a staff attorney at the Commission as well as for the Montana Consumer Counsel; and I’ve worked with both Republicans and Democrats to get the job done. As a staff attorney at the Commission I served on regional and national staff committees, including for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions (NARUC), developing a network across the country. I also worked on legislation and rulemakings for the Commission. In private practice, I’ve handled cases that I’ve both defended and appealed all the way to the Montana Supreme Court. I am familiar with how the PSC functions, inside and out. An example of one of my cases is Qwest v. The Montana PSC, where I defended the Commission’s right to investigate monopoly utilities.

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

First, I will champion fair utility rates for Montanans, making sure money stays in Montanans’ pockets, rather than being sent to shareholders of out-of-state corporations. Under the current commission, Montanans’ electric rates have increased by more than 20%. Montanans need commissioners who have the legal and technical experience to ask detailed questions and get answers. As an attorney at the MCC I successfully prevailed on two cases that kept ten million dollars in Montana rather than going to the shareholders of monopoly utilities. 

Second, I am running to make Montana an energy leader in today’s economy. I will support fair pricing of renewable energy, and work to enhance the reliability of Montana’s energy system through improved storage and better access to regional energy markets. 

Third, I will take a proactive role in working to improve Montana’s connectivity and broadband services, which are integral to our rural communities. 

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

The PSC frequently hears from NorthWestern at “information meetings”. These meetings are open to the public and streamed to the Internet, but the only people who talk are from NWE or their invited participants and PSC and staff. These meetings are technically legal, provided they don’t directly touch on pending cases; however, these meetings are often used to “soften up” the PSC on future issues or policies.

Exchange of information outside of formal cases is important and the PSC, more than most state agencies, needs to stay abreast of developments in the energy and telecommunications industries. But this type of meeting should be an opportunity to provide information from all parties who represent the public and who may present a different perspective or facts from that offered by the utility.

If the PSC is going to conduct “information meetings”, these meetings should be open to anyone who wants to participate.

What other issues are important to your campaign? (300 words max)

My path in life has been heavily shaped by my early years, growing up on a ranch in eastern Montana with my nine siblings. My Dad was my “North Star” and he always told us to work hard and “contribute something positive.” I’ve aimed to do that my whole life -- from rowing in the Olympics with Team USA to raising my three daughters to running for this office. 

When I visited communities across District 4 on my 550 mi bike tour, I was inspired by the hard work and love of community that Montanans shared. As a Public Service Commissioner, my pledge to Montanans is to work hard and contribute something positive because I know they’re doing the same.

It has been deflating to see the levels of unprofessionalism, including the spying and bullying that have recently been reported at the PSC. Our democracy is dependent on our institutions working, and working well. It is imperative that our elected officials know what they are doing, and know how to do it. I am running to restore integrity, hard work and professionalism to the commission. I will bring the commission back to making decisions based on facts, science, and the law.

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