With 66.6% of statewide votes counted by early Wednesday morning, Republican Ann Bukacek was leading in the race for a seat on the Public Service Commission.
Bukacek, a political fire brand and physician more known from her years of antiabortion campaigning, had 55% of the 80,204votes counted by 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Democrat John Repke, a retired finance executive for Waste Management, has so far received 45% of the vote.
The outcome shifted in Bukacek’s favor when Flathead County ballots were added to the tally.
The PSC regulates utility and public service monopolies, which includes the state’s largest utilities NorthWestern Energy and MDU. In that capacity, the PSC affects the household budgets of more than 400,000 Montana utility customers. Those customers are legally recognized as “captive,” meaning they lack the free-market choice of shopping around for a better deal.
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Both candidates campaigned on restoring professionalism to the Montana Public Service Commission, which has been repeatedly tripped up by scandal over the years.
However, there are big differences between the candidates, with Repke focused on delivering the most affordable rates for consumers, particularly as commissioners review a request by NorthWestern Energy to increase base