Unfortunately, the PSC has become a feather bed for right-wing activists. And why not. The salary is $111,000 with full state benefits. And because no one supervises the Commissioners, they have plenty of time to devote to playing right-wing politics.
Here are brief bios of each commissioner you won’t find on the PSC website.
Commission President James Brown– Brown is an attorney and Republican political climber. While serving on the Commission in 2022 and drawing full paychecks from the state, Brown ran for the Montana Supreme Court and lost. He was accused of numerous ethics violations for injecting partisan politics into a judicial race, which is a violation of the Judicial Code of Ethics. Brown was also the lawyer for the State Republican Party for sixyears and represented the American Tradition Partnership, a dark money group which was featured in a PBS Frontline expose titled Big Sky, Big Money.
Commission Vice Chair Jennifer Fielder– Elected to the Commission in 2020, Fielder served eight years in the Montana Legislature, developing a reputation as an aggressive opponent of conservation efforts. She also served as the CEO of the American Lands Council which advocates for transferring Federal lands to state and county governments. She also served as the vice chair of the Montana Republican Party. She was a board member of the Sanders County Natural Resources Council which was started in 2006 by Militia of Montana founder John Trochman.
Commissioner Tony O’Donnell– Elected to the Commission in 2016, O’Donnell is term limited and will be leaving the Commission after the 2024 election. He was removed from a national regulator’s organization after telling racially offensive stories using the “N” word. He also ran afoul of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices when he “loaned” Republican legislative candidate Rod Garcia $3,000 for use in his campaign for legislature.
Commissioner Annie Bukacek– Elected in 2022, Bukacek is an MD but is best known for her far-right activism. She was a leader in the anti-Covid Vaccine movement, organizing and participating in protests while serving on the local Board of Health in Flathead County. She caused another board member to resign. He said he could not serve with Bukacek in good conscience. In 2009 when she was leader of the Montana Prolife Coalition, she came under investigation for her billing practices relating to allegations that she submitted Medicaid reimbursements for time spent praying with patients.
Commissioner Randy Pinocci– What can we say about Pinocci?! He’ll be done with the PSC in 2026. Rather than take up a bunch of space here, you can follow these links for more about Pinocci.
No need to wonder why these people are not very interested or concerned about rate increases for ordinary Montanans. We leave you with this quote from Annie Bukacek regarding the recent 28% rate increase she voted for: “This historic unprecedented increase that people are talking about, it’s $25 to $30 a month. That’s the cost of three to four dozen eggs.” Kind of like Marie Antoinette saying “Let them eat cake”
More from Randy’s World
More Republican Police Blotter– Pinocci Arrested Again!
After long delays for no apparent reason, the Public Service Commission (PSC) finally issued its ruling on NorthWestern Energy’s request for a 28% electricity rate increase for residential customers. No big surprise. . . they granted the request.
All five Commissioners supported the rate increase (including Great Falls’ own Randy Pinocci, who must have made bail on his felony witness tampering charge). All five Commissioners are Republicans. Unfortunately it appears the PSC has become a feather bed for Republican activists and politicians with its $100,000 plus salary and generous benefits package which includes health insurance and retirement. None of them will have any problem paying the increased rates.
We’re not going to rehash the details of the case here. But here are a couple of takeaways.
This rate increase falls heavily on residential ratepayers and lets other “customer classes” (that’s businesses and corporations) off the hook.
Despite NorthWestern’s claims, this is a 28% increase. Don’t be fooled by the wiggle words the Company is using to minimize the size of the increase.
This increase is not because of taxes.
For details of the case, readers can follow this link to an editorial which WTF406.com ran back in June. https://wtf406.com/2023/06/editors-choice-northwestern-rate-increase-unfair/
What do these two men have in common? Both are bullies. Neither one thinks the law applies to them. Both believe bizarre conspiracy theories. Both face charges for criminal acts while in office.
Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci was arrested last Friday on two charges of witness tampering. Both charges are felonies. Pinocci said, through his lawyer, that he is innocent.
Back in September, Pinocci was arrested for failure to appear in a dispute with a relative of one of his tenants over a security deposit. Pinocci claimed the whole thing was a misunderstanding. https://wtf406.com/2023/09/more-republican-police-blotter-can-you-believe-it/
Pinocci’s second arrest came on Friday, Oct 13th when a tenant, who was also a witness in Pinocci’s existing disorderly conduct charge, asked Pinocci to mow the lawn on a rental property. The Daily Montana reports that Pinocci responded by text, “For us to continue this relationship, you need to recant your testimony with the Sheriff’s Office,” then continues, “none of these facts that you said happened are true,” and “you’re not allowed on my property until this problem is corrected.” Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said that another witness said that Pinocci said the same thing in a telephone conversation.
Pinocci’s attorney, Ben Reed, who is also a former attorney for the Public Service Commission, said Pinocci denies all charges.
State Senator and Republican Majority Leader, Steve Fitzpatrick, wants the personal financial information of his political opponents in the legislature. In a statement given to Lee Papers on Monday, October 2, Fitzaptrick said he was filing an “information request” with the Department of Revenue requesting confidential information on Democratic legislators’ taxes.
Fitzpatrick’s request is apparently motivated by the fact that opponents of the Republicans’ big residential tax increase held a rally at the Capitol featuring Jane Weber, former Cascade County Commissioner and current legislative candidate and former Governor Brian Schweitzer. The rally was organized by Big Sky 55+ a group dedicated to economic security for older Montanans. The event attracted an estimated 200 people and garnered state-wide press coverage. https://helenair.com/news/state-regional/government-politics/rally-in-capitol-rotunda-calls-for-special-session-over-property-tax-hike/article_26fc829e-6165-11ee-aa98-63e547ef326e.html
On its merit’s Fitzpatrick has to know that there is virtually no way his request will be enforced by the courts in Montana. So put this one in the “political stunt” category. But maybe making tax information for legislators public isn’t such a bad idea. We’d sure like to be able to see Fitzpatrick’s tax returns and other personal documents. Maybe then we could have a clear picture of who his legal clients are and how much they pay him. And why stop at his personal records. It would be nice to see who the clients of his law firm are and if the client list overlaps the topic of legislation Fitzpatrick introduces.
Consider this reported by the Missoula Current last March. “Republican Senator Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls is the sponsor of three bills which would greatly increase the utility costs of NorthWestern Energy’s customers. The three bills are SB 265, SB 266 and SB 379. Fitzpatrick is also the son of the former NorthWestern Director of Government Affairs.” Hmmmm.
Last September, Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci said that Misssoula should be targeted for “brownouts”. In a speech calling for Republican elected officials to “flex their political muscle,” Pinocci requested that PSC staff figure out if reductions of power in the grid could be targeted to specific communities. Apparently, Pinocci was responding to citizen protests against NorthWestern Energy.
Last August, Pinocci issued a bogus blackout warning. Pinocci and one other Public Service Commissioner issued a statement which said, “the probable lack of energy leading to ‘rolling blackouts’ in eastern Montana this summer as well as frighteningly real possibilities of hugely inadequate shortages in Montana in winter.” Turned out the whole thing was bogus. The PSC staff was forced to point out that the full Public Service Commission did not support Pinocci’s statement.
In 2020, Pinocci went on the far-right Northwest Liberty News webcast and said he was concerned about fellow Public Service Commissioner Roger Koopman bringing a gun to the office. Koopman denied the allegation.
Also in 2020, Pinocci apparently hacked into a fellow PSC commissioner’s e-mail account and put together a story which he then shopped to media outlets. When The Billings Gazette refused to publish the story, Pinoccci went to Northwest Liberty News which published a story under the headline, “Terror in Helena! ‘I’m afraid that Roger Koopman will bring a gun to work and shoot me. . . .”
At a speech in Havre In March 2022, Pinocci called for regulation of social media to control “anti-conservative” bias. He went on to compare the supposed oppression of conservatives to the oppression of Black Americans under Jim Crow.
In 2016, when he was a legislator, Pinocci called for the jailing of journalists after the Fairfield Sun Times refused to publish an editorial he wrote on gun rights saying, “. . .maybe after we put a few of these idiots in jail we can get better reporting.” https://docs.google.com/document/d/1R1IpUvxSB7Ac08EtiYWSJKk2X-EUVk_j4Q20Je5HUQE/edit
Pinocci has quite a record of expressing extreme views, and there is a lot more than we have listed above. But perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Pinocci and the Cascade County Republicans is their corruption. It is worth noting that two of Pinocci’s family members were recently hired by the new Clerk and Recorder and election denier Sandra Merchant.
Other elected Republicans are also involved in suspect situations. Legislators Steven and Lola Galloway are leasing a big building they own to the state Motor Vehicle Division whose budget they oversee as legislators. (WTF406 filed an information request with the state asking for information on the bidding process for the lease more than two months ago). Speaking of the Galloways, many of Steven Galloway’s bills at the legislature promoted his business interests as a landlord in Great Falls. Then there is the whole saga of Senator Jeremy Trebas’ attempt to change state law to enrich his real estate deals. https://wtf406.com/2023/07/senator-trebas-tax-scam-turns-into-an-albatross-around-his-neck/
And let’s not forget Representative Steve Gist, and the fact that his primary residence and place of business appears to be in Flathead County not Cascade County, where he is supposed to be our representative. https://wtf406.com/2022/10/where-in-the-world-does-steve-gist-really-live/
The Public Service Commission (PSC) has approved yet another utility rate hike. The PSC is recommending a rate hike of over 9% for Montana Dakota Utilities, which means customers can expect their energy bills to go up just as summer starts to wind down. Facing wage stagnation and an expected 40% property tax increase, many Montanans may well be forced to choose between paying their energy bills or going cold this winter.
The entirely Republican PSC has consistently voted to allow NorthWestern energy to raise their rates as well. Recently, Northwestern Energy reached a settlement in a lawsuit against their “historic” requested rate increase of over 25%. This increase would primarily affect residential properties and small businesses, the two groups the PSC has repeatedly thrown under the bus. Homeowners who use Northwestern energy can expect their utility bills to increase another 28%.
Members of the PSC are elected, and the Great Falls region is represented by Randy Pinocci. When he’s not sleeping on the job, Pinocci has continuously voted to increase energy costs for Montanans. In fact, in 2021 Great Falls customers faced an increase of over 40% for their heating costs. Meanwhile, Pinocci is being paid over $100,000 a year of our tax money while voting to empty our wallets. There are seemingly other benefits of Pinocci’s position as well. Both Pinocci’s wife and daughter were recently hired by Sandra Merchant at the Clerk and Recorder’s office. While we cannot yet prove nepotism, it seems highly suspicious that both positions would go to family members of an elected Public Service Commissioner. As Randy Pinocci reminds us time and time again, political corruption is profitable business in Montana.
Read our previous pieces about Pinocci here:
Read about the new rate increase here:
Read about the Northwestern Energy lawsuit here: