Press "Enter" to skip to content

Who Gets Kolbeck’s Seat? Daugaard’s PUC Options

The peanut gallery offers numerous nutty suggestions for the seat Commissioner Steve Kolbeck is abdicating on the Public Utilities Commission June 17. Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard gets to pick a replacement for the only Democrat in statewide elected office (besides Senator Tim Johnson, if you count Congress).

Whom might the Governor pick to join Commissioner Chris Nelson in a Daugaard-chosen quorum? Let's speculate:

Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson: Contrary to the fantasies of some "golden-boy" dreamers (who may include Olson himself), the District 8 Senator will never be Governor of South Dakota. He lacks the policy horsepower and raw chutzpah to win that seat or anything higher. Governor Daugaard may choose to make this clear to Olson (if Olson hasn't already quietly come to this conclusion himself) by taking him out of the Legislature and appointing him to the political dead-end of the PUC.

Olson ostensibly has utilities background, although his portfolio at Heartland Consumer Power District is handing out checks, not actual utility policy. Still, as Daugaard's pick of Chris Nelson shows, no experience is necessary.

The fun reason to appoint Olson: his ascent to the PUC would leave a big job opening for an economic development director at Heartland... and the obvious choice for that job is me.

Senator Shantel Krebs: An anonymous dreamer says it heard the District 10 Senator is on the short list. Really? None of her bills this year dealt directly with utilities. She's not on the Commerce and Energy Committee. Picking Krebs for PUC would only seem to enhance the GOP obsession with picking image over substance.

Democratic Legislators: Neither Olson nor Krebs is a good PUC pick politically. It's hard to squeeze political advantage from a board already controlled by Republicans and rather limited in power.

If Governor Daugaard wants to get some bang for his appointment buck, he should play legislative chess. Pick a strong Democratic legislator. Draft Senate Minority Leader Jason Frerichs, and dare District 1 to come up with another Democrat. Appoint District 8 Rep. Mitch Fargen, and leave us Madison/Flandreau Dems scrambling to find someone to fill his spot on next year's ballot. Pick any district with a strong Democrat winning elections with lots of votes from centrist Republicans and take that option away from them. The Governor can replace that Democratic legislator with a local Republican for the 2012 session and give that aspirant a nice incumbent boost for the general election.

The governor could have similar fun by appointing thorny Republican Senator Stanford Adelstein to the PUC. Then the GOP can replace him with a redder Republican (move the district lines and bring back Bill Napoli!).

Chris Daugaard: The governor caught heck for seeming nepotism when his son Chris landed an analyst's job at the PUC last year. But you know what? That job gives Chris Daugaard more PUC experience than anyone else I've heard mentioned as a possible replacement for Kolbeck. Go for it, Dennis! It's good to be king! Besides, I hear PUC appointments make really nice wedding presents....

Just don't put Tony there, Dennis. Your son-in-law wants to be governor, too... and unlike Russ, Tony has a shot. Don't trip him up with a dead-end PUC appointment.

* * *

Update 10:01 CDT: Another fun blog post shot to hell by the South Dakota Constitution:

No member of the Legislature shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed or elected to any civil office in the state which shall have been created, or the emoluments of which shall have been increased during the term for which he was elected, nor shall any member receive any civil appointment from the Governor, the Governor and senate, or from the Legislature during the term for which he shall have been elected, and all such appointments and all votes given for any such members for any such office or appointment shall be void; nor shall any member of the Legislature during the term for which he shall have been elected, or within one year thereafter, be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract with the state or any county thereof, authorized by any law passed during the term for which he shall have been elected [South Dakota Constitution, Article 3, Section 12].

The language of that section seems to suggest legislative chess in the PUC appointment is out. Even if Russ or Shantel resigned from the Senate pre-appointment, Article 3 Section 12 lays the appointment restriction on "the term for which he shall have been elected."


  1. mike 2011.06.06

    I would agree with those who put Senator Schlekeway on the list. He has a strong grasp on the energy issues.

    Many people say Lucas Lentsch was going to run for PUC at convention but I don't think he'll get an appointment from Daugaard because apparently Dusty doesn't support him.

  2. mike 2011.06.06

    I've heard a lot of talk from the political gossipers in SF that Schlekeway's being encouraged to run for Mayor against Huether. He doesn't seem overly aggressive or ambitous to me so who knows if he'd run for Mayor but I really like the guy when I've spoken with him in Pierre.

    It's 3 years out also so probably just political junkies analyzing the field.

  3. mike 2011.06.06


    So was Chris Nelson's appointment ok because constitutional officers are ok to appoint but not legislators?

  4. Troy Jones 2011.06.06

    If you recall the SD Constitution was written in 1889 when US Senators were selected by state legislatures. Direct election of US Senators began in the 1900's.

    When SD became a state, the prairie populism opposed selection of US Senators and were instrumental in the movement to direct election. I don't recall where I read it but I have it in my head the attitude of prairie populists feared a strong legislature more than a strong Governor.

    If my memory serves me right, it is my supposition this prohibition of legislators being appointed to constitutional offices was designed to prevent the legislature demanding appointment when openings in Constitutional Offices occurred.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.06.06

    Good historical perspective, Troy!

  6. mike 2011.06.06

    It's probably from John Lauck's book Prairie Republic.

Comments are closed.