Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear readers,

Here is the third installment of asking state officials about their vacation time. (If you missed the others, see installment 1 here and installment 2 here.)

As I reported earlier, elected officials are free to set their schedules and days off. They do not report annual leave hours or sick leave. I asked these officials the same questions that I asked the others: how much time they took off last year, how much they have taken this year and how they determine how much is appropriate.

Here’s how they responded:

Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk

How many days off did you take in 2010? 0 sick days. Estimate 10 days’ vacation/personal time Days included visiting our daughter in college, hunting and personal days.

How many days off have you taken this year? 0 sick days. Estimate seven days’ vacation/personal time. Days included visiting our daughter in college, personal days and funerals. If it works out, I will probably take off some time to hunt this fall.

How do you go about determining how many days off you take each year? Basically, the hearing and meetings’ schedule (is) always priority. If I can get away and visit our daughter or hunt, I try to do that a few times a year. When I’m out of the office, I always make sure to check the emails several times a day and am always available by cellphone.

As elected officials, we don’t accrue days for sick leave or annual leave. So when you leave office, there is no “selling” back of leave to the state. When you’re done, you’re done.

Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark

“I checked my calendar to see if I could calculate it. It would appear it is set to remove old months’ data. It must be deleted after about six months because I don’t see many appointments prior to April 2011. So, I am unable to reconstruct 2010. Since April, I found nine days taken for personal/vacation leave.

“I don’t have any particular formula for determining how many days to take off each year. It is mostly a matter of making sure the job is getting done and that I am able to adequately prepare for and participate in commission meetings and agency business.”

Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer

How many days off did you take in 2010? In 2010, I did not take any family vacations but took the Friday after Thanksgiving off. I took a day in December for a family funeral. I also took a handful of Friday afternoons off in the summer and another day around Christmas. Everything else would be the occasional hour or two or a half day for board meetings or personal errands.

How many days off have you taken this year? I took one week in March to go on a vacation with my family, but participated in commission meetings and hearings via phone. I took a couple of Fridays off for personal time this summer and one to go on an Honor Flight and about three half days.

I had my teeth cleaned once, which took an hour. I also take an occasional hour or two for meetings of boards I am on (University of Mary, Roughrider Honor Flight). None of that time adds up to much and is more than made up for. In fact, in most cases it ends up involving as much constituency work as charitable work. I also took Tuesday and Wednesday (recently) off to travel on personal business but participated in PSC meetings via phone.

How do you go about determining how many days off you take each year? I go about determining how many days to take off by how many I need to work. This job is very demanding if you are going to do it right, and I choose to do it right.

Something I do that some have been critical of is I put everything on my official calendar, including political meetings and events. I’ve always found that the best regulation is transparency.

Even if I end up with a spontaneous coffee break with a friend or political person, I will put it on my calendar after the meeting to avoid being accused of secret meetings. Of course, serving on a three member commission, transparency is critical.

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

Crabtree, Cramer criticize campaign contributors

BISMARCK—Kevin Cramer’s campaign reports show “a disturbing pattern” of accepting money from companies and executives affected by his decisions as a Public Service Commission regulator, his Democratic challenger said Monday.

In turn, Cramer called the attacks “desperation at best” and said Brad Crabtree’s reports show a “far more disturbing pattern” of funneling money from Washington, D.C., “without any accountability attached to them.”

Crabtree sent a news release to the media saying certain campaign contributions made to Cramer “threaten the independence and integrity of the PSC and its decisions.”

Crabtree specifically points to $9,800 from Corbin Robertson and his wife of Houston, saying Robertson is managing partner of Quintana Capital Group.

Quintana owns Great Northern Power Development, which has sought a mining permit from the PSC for a lignite coal mine near South Heart.

Crabtree also said Cramer accepted $7,800 from the political action committee and top executives of Florida Power & Light. Subsidiary NextEra is a wind energy developer in North Dakota, and the siting of its wind farms falls under PSC jurisdiction, Crabtree said.

Cramer’s campaign received $4,800 in contributions this year and $3,000 during 2007-2008, Crabtree said.

Throughout the campaign, Cramer has said he regulates with a light touch, Crabtree said.

“How are we as North Dakota voters to know whether that light touch is because of the contributions he’s received?” Crabtree said.

“There’s nothing wrong with money from industry, but money from industry where they have a direct benefit from the outcome of a particular case, that is corruption of the regulatory process. It happens to be legal in North Dakota, but it still corrupts the process,” he said.

Cramer said Crabtree has received $75,000 “laundered through Washington, D.C.”

“If he thinks that laundering his money through the Democratic Party makes him clean, I guess I’d take full transparency over that any day,” Cramer said.

He said he would expect people making investments in North Dakota to support a regulator who “regulates without bias as opposed to somebody who brings as much ideological baggage to the table as Brad Crabtree does.”

Cramer called his contributions “noble activism by a corporate citizen.”

“We expect people to demonstrate their corporate citizenship by supporting people that are good public servants,” he said. “I don’t see that as bad or wrong. I don’t think most North Dakotans will, either.”

Cramer pointed to $2,500 in contributions Crabtree received from connections to Kinder Morgan, described on its website as “one of the largest pipeline transportation and energy storage companies in North America.”

“On the one hand, he criticizes me for taking from companies and then he does exactly the same thing and somehow that’s OK,” Cramer said. “All you have to do is look at my record. If there’s any place in my record that you can tie a contribution back to a decision I made, then you might have an issue. Until you can do that, he has no issue.”

Referring to his Washington, D.C., contributions, Crabtree said he won’t be regulating Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan and Earl Pomeroy if elected to the commission. As for Kinder Morgan, Crabtree said he knows the contributors through his family and said the company doesn’t have any business before the North Dakota PSC.

Crabtree said North Dakota has “terrible regulation of campaign finance” and said state legislators should take a hard look at it.

“The idea that you can legally take unlimited contributions from a company or an institution that, as a regulator, you’re supposed to regulate, to me is unethical on the face of it,” he said.

Cramer’s report lists his total of all contributions at $164,541.39. Crabtree’s is $155,413.40.

Cramer releases energy statement

North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer issued this news release today:

“At a time when the rest of the nation is suffering economically, North Dakota is fortunate to be doing well. This is in large part due to the remarkable strength of the energy sector in the North Dakota economy.”

“North Dakota electricity rates are the lowest in the nation. Bureaucratic regulations to curb carbon emissions will impose unnecessary costs and make energy more expensive to produce. Those costs will inevitably be passed on to consumers. Such heavy-handed policies will only harm our state’s economy. Both Congress and the EPA need to avoid micromanaging North Dakota’s energy policy.”

“Regarding renewable sources, it is indeed important to have a conversation about the role they can play in North Dakota’s energy mix. During my tenure at the PSC, North Dakota has outpaced the nation in infrastructure development for wind farms. However, traditional energy sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas are and will remain critical to our energy profile for the foreseeable future. Any sensible energy policy must recognize that coal and oil are at the heart of North Dakota’s economy.”

“I look forward to comments by Sen. Byron Dorgan today at the Energy Technology Symposium. Sen. Dorgan’s vote against the Murkowksi amendment, which would have prohibited the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions, is deeply concerning. Rumors abound that Congress may try to pass a cap-and-trade bill during the lame duck session following the November elections. I hope Sen. Dorgan will use this opportunity to put citizens and industry at ease by re-affirming his commitment to vigorously oppose any cap-and-trade legislation after the summer recess and during the lame duck session.”

Updated: N.D. Republicans choose chairman

(Updated 11:05 p.m. Monday to include Kevin Cramer statement at bottom)

The North Dakota Republican Party announced Monday that it unanimously voted for Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark to serve as its next chairman.

"This election cycle presents our party the opportunity to put Gov. John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg in Congress and to assert fiscal responsibility in Washington, D.C.," Clark said in a statement sent out by the party. "I am excited with the direction of the party and our crop of candidates and look forward to working with them this fall."

Clark replaces Gary Emineth, who resigned earlier this month to focus on his business interests.

Here is the statement from Democratic Public Service Commission candidate Brad Crabtree:

“Today is a sad day for the Public Service Commission and for the integrity of state government in North Dakota. The nomination of Tony Clark to chair a political party, while actively serving on the PSC, marks a breach of faith with the people of North Dakota by openly politicizing what should be the nonpartisan regulatory role of the PSC.”

“Public Service Commissioners are the closest thing we have to judges in the executive branch of government. North Dakotans have the expectation that their PSC commissioners will review the facts of a case and apply the law in an objective, transparent and nonpartisan fashion, regardless of the political beliefs of those who come before the Commission, or of those who are affected by its decisions. The public cannot have this trust in the PSC when one of its members is publicly serving and advocating for the interests of a particular political party.”

“The decision by Clark to serve in the role of a political party chair marks the latest in a series of disturbing partisan incidents and actions over the past year and a half. Ever since former Commissioner Susan Wefald retired from the PSC in 2008, we have witnessed the transformation of an independent regulatory agency into an openly ideological, partisan and activist enterprise.”

“That Clark would assume such an overtly political role confirms what I have said since announcing my candidacy in February: my opponent Kevin Cramer and his fellow commissioners have lost sight of the critical independent, nonpartisan role a responsible regulatory agency must play. They have debased the Public Service Commission in the process.”

“During my entire professional career in North Dakota, I have never engaged publicly in partisan political activity. If elected, I will dedicate myself to restoring integrity, public trust and nonpartisan accountability to the Public Service Commission.”

 

Here is the statement from Dem-NPL Chairman Mark Schneider:

"This truly shows the arrogance of the Republican Party in North Dakota right now. Less than 100 days from the election, they made a person their chair who was elected to be an impartial regulator, almost like a judge. Tony Clark will now be traveling around the state soliciting donations from the very people that he is supposed to regulate. That is a clear conflict of interest that hurts the integrity of the Public Service Commission at a time when it is already more partisan than ever. Not to mention the fact that clearly Clark doesn’t think that his taxpayer-funded position is a full time job."

"Two out of three members of the PSC have served or are serving as Republican party chair. Now more than ever we need someone like Brad Crabtree on the Commission, who is not political and is an expert in his field, as opposed to people using the PSC as a stepping stone to higher partisan office. We can’t have the Republican Party being run out of the North Dakota capitol."

 

Here is the statement from Republican Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer

"The Democrat candidate for the North Dakota Public Service Commission showed again today that he is void of any substance and settles for more shallow partisan demagoguery. Absent of any real criticism of the current PSC members, Brad Crabtree grasped at more straws tonight in another harshly partisan statement about the election of Tony Clark to serve as Chairman of the ND GOP. In addition, he demonstrated his ignorance of political facts. Crabtree said having a PSC Commissioner serve as a state party chairman is “unprecedented.” A good Public Service Commissioner must know the facts before passing judgment. Nebraska Public Service Commissioner Anne Boyle was elected as Chairwoman of the Nebraska Democrat Party in 1998, two years after her election to the PSC. She still serves on the PSC. Brad better get better at homework if he expects to keep up with the rigors of being a Public Service Commissioner.

 

Brad’s claim that the ND PSC has become too partisan is an attempt to divert attention away from the truth. While ND has had three Republican Commissioners for a decade, we have never had a decision overturned on appeal either by a state or federal court. The citizens of North Dakota know their Public Service Commissioners make decisions based on facts, not politics. There is mounting evidence that Brad Crabtree will be unable to offer the same objective decision making. Ever since getting the Democrat endorsement all he has done is whined about the Republican makeup of the PSC while avoiding the complicated issues and impressive record of achievement by the current Commission.

 

He has attempted to forward a couple of policies which would increase utility rates and hurt North Dakota’s economy, which might explain why his party has convinced him to issue harsh political attacks rather than defend left-wing policies. I have never been embarrassed to be a Republican, and am proud of the record of accomplishment of the ND PSC and other GOP officials serving in the state capitol. I have argued passionately for policies that have made North Dakota stronger and better. I have been just as passionate in opposition to liberal policies which would devastate our economy and national security. If that is being too political, so be it. I’d rather stand up for North Dakota than sit back and let Washington policies harm us.

 

North Dakota is the envy of the world with our development of coal, oil, gas, and wind energy. Our comprehensive energy policies have made ND the state of choice for investment and good jobs. We’ve done that while protecting our environmental and cultural resources and our citizens. Furthermore, we have the lowest residential electricity rates in the nation. When one considers North Dakota’s position in the world it is easy to see why the Democrats won’t debate the real issues but would rather lob grenades in hopes of blowing something up. It won’t work. North Dakotans know me and they know I will fight for the things they believe in and won’t be bashful about the bedrock principles which have made our state strong.

—————–

What do you think of Clark being selected as chairman?

Cramer calls Waxman comments “disturbing”

The following is a news release sent out by Kevin Cramer tonight: (Side note: Waxman is a Democrat from California)

North Dakota Public Service Commission Chairman Kevin Cramer today called Congressman Henry Waxman’s comments about the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline “very disturbing.”

Cramer referenced a letter Waxman sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday where Waxman claims the pipeline, which would provide a transportation link for North Dakota Bakken Oil to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas, would “expand our reliance on the dirtiest source of transportation fuel currently available.”

Waxman is the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“What planet is Henry Waxman living on,” said Cramer. “Clearly he has no concept of how important domestic supplies of crude oil are to our economy and our national security.”

Cramer continued, “In addition to providing another export route for North Dakota oil, the Keystone XL will carry Oil Sands crude from Alberta Canada. I’d rather the United States get its oil from North Dakota and Canada than Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.”

Cramer is running for re-election to the PSC and has been attacked relentlessly by his opponent for his strong political opinions. “I have to wonder why Brad Crabtree is silent when a leading member of his own party makes such outrageous and ill informed statements,” said Cramer, “If Crabtree is serious about being an energy regulator in North Dakota, he’d better step up to the plate when it matters most. This is one of those times.”

Clark response to Dems

Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark’s response to the Democratic criticism of his interest in serving as Republican Party chairman: (this will be added to the web story soon)

Clark said the Democrats’ game plan is dirt digging and character assassination as opposed to issues. Any party work would be done in his free time, he said, adding it’s not uncommon for elected officials to do both. He pointed to Democrat Tim Kaine, who was governor of Virginia when he was selected to chair the Democratic National Committee.

—-Clark also disputes that the person who shared the images of the anti-Obama signs was part of a tour. The 13th floor is solely personal workspace for state employees. "There is really no reason a member of the public would be ‘touring’ that floor," he said.

Kalk issues cap and trade statement

North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk sent out the below news release late last night. Do you agree with what he has to say? What are your thoughts on cap and trade?

From Kalk:

"As President Ronald Reagan would say, ‘There they go again.’

The Associated Press reported on June 29 that President Obama is
working with several Senators to "quietly draft" a version of cap and
trade deemed "utility-only."

They have been trying for 18 months to force a bill to destroy our fossil
fuel industry. The people of the United States and North Dakota are
against such a bill. This has not stopped the president and his allies.

The worst oil spill in history is wrecking havoc on our country. In true
Chicago style, instead of focusing on stopping the leak and cleaning up
the mess, it is being used to push another version of cap and trade.

This new version of the old bill is aimed directly at North Dakota.

A "utility-only" version of cap and trade means increased costs for refineries and power plants resulting in at least a 25-40 percent increase in utility costs and thousands of lost jobs for our state.

The "utility-only" version is actually worse for our state than the original cap and trade bill. It will disproportionally affect North Dakota consumers and devastate our economy. If signed into law, North Dakota will no longer have the lowest retail electricity rates in the country, our rich oil and gas reserves will not be fully developed, and North Dakota’s economy will be forever harmed.

We are doing it right in North Dakota!

In addition to our strong fossil fuel industries, wind, biofuels and other renewable energy sources continue to increase in our state. North Dakota’s balanced approach to energy development should be modeled by Washington, not punished.

It is time for Senators Conrad and Dorgan to demand the president deliver a realistic policy that leads us towards genuine energy independence, not one that will wipe out our state’s economy."

Crabtree PSC statement

From Public Service Commission candidate Brad Crabtree:

BISMARCK – In a statement released today, Public Service Commission candidate Brad Crabtree called the North Dakota Public Service Commission’s attempt to blame the failure of the Big Stone II power plant in South Dakota on proposed federal climate legislation both "disturbing" and "unprecedented."

"Blaming failure for this project on federal legislation that never passed Congress intentionally misrepresents the facts of the case and politicizes the critical nonpartisan role of the Public Service Commission," Crabtree said in a statement.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission approved Montana-Dakota Utilities’ and Otter Tail Power’s request to recover pre-construction development costs for the now-defunct Big Stone II project through a rate increase to consumers.

"North Dakota ratepayers are now left with a bill because Kevin Cramer and his colleagues backed a project that was economically uncertain and featured yesterday’s coal technology, not today’s," Crabtree said.

Election presser in Minot

Secretary of State Democratic candidate Corey Mock and Sen. John Warner, D-Ryder, are having a news conference in Minot tomorrow.

They will discuss a request by Warner for an attorney general’s opinion regarding a recent decision by Secretary of State Al Jaeger, according to a news release.

Jaeger misplaced election paperwork of Libertarian Public Service Commission candidate Joshua Voytek, which prevented Voytek from being placed on the June primary ballot.

Jaeger said the documents were mistakenly attached to other business registration paperwork in his office, according to an Associated Press report. Jaeger and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Voytek’s name will be listed on the November ballot even though North Dakota law requires statewide primary candidates to get at least 300 votes to be eligible to run in the fall.

The 1 p.m. news conference at the Minot Public Library will discuss "the error, accompanied by questions surrounding the issue."

PSC to meet with Grand Forks base

North Dakota Public Service commissioners will be in Grand Forks on Wednesday to meet with Air Force Base officials regarding concerns about the impact of potential wind farms and the base’s mission.

 

The meeting is a result of ongoing discussions that Commissioner Tony Clark has had with members of the Base Realignment Impact Committee and local officials. Clark holds the commission’s electric generation and transmission portfolio.

 

“In discussions I have had with Grand Forks officials, it has become clear that wind farm siting and permitting is a significant concern," Clark said in a statement. "My goal is to ensure that any wind farms that are built in North Dakota are done in such a way that they do not interfere with the critical missions of our state’s air bases."

 

Commissioners will meet with local Grand Forks leaders and Air Force officials at 1 p.m. at the Grand Forks County Office Building in the Commission Chambers.