Republicans gain control of Montana Consumer Counsel, the state’s advocate for consumers (copy)

Following the Legislative session, Republicans will have control of hiring and firing at the Montana Consumer Counsel.

The change marks the first time since the state Constitution created an attorney to represent consumers 51 years ago that the makeup of the committee overseeing the Consumer Counsel isn’t evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Three years ago, that even split thwarted Republican attempts to make the Consumer Counsel retract concerns about NorthWestern Energy’s plans to acquire a larger share of Colstrip Power Plant.

The break from bipartisanship comes as NorthWestern is preparing again to acquire a larger Colstrip share. Once again, the Consumer Counsel will be called upon to weigh the acquisition’s risks to consumers and make a case against the deal, if necessary.

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By law, Republicans will now have a four-to-two advantage on the Legislative Consumer Committee. The new law proposed by Sen. Keith Regier, a Kalispell Republican, puts two members from the majority of each chamber on the committee and one member from the minority party in each body. A similar split is proposed for every committee meeting between sessions.

“A 50-50 makeup of

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