Gov. Phil Batt on Friday appointed Senate Transportation Chairman Dennis Hansen to the Public Utilities Commission.
Hansen, 52, a Soda Springs Republican just beginning his fifth two-year term in the Senate, is an accountant at Monsanto Co. and will succeed attorney Joe Miller, a Democrat who did not request reappointment to the $65,000-a-year job.
In addition to his chairmanship, Hansen is also a member of the conservative bloc on the legislative budget committee, and Batt characterized him as someone who is aware that regulated utilities must earn an adequate return on their investment but that there rates cannot be exorbitant.
“He knows his first consideration is to the public,” the governor said.
Batt also agreed with Hansen that past financial support from various special interests, the railroads being his heaviest political contributor, would play no role in his decisions as a state regulator.
For himself, Hansen said he hoped to offer a balanced approach on the commission with an emphasis on assuring that rural areas of Idaho like the one he is from receive the same quality service as the more urban areas.
“Those regulated utilities need to be healthy and strong, they need to expand, they need to get a good rate on their bonds,” he said. “However, and this is where the fine line is, I’ll be a very strong supporter of the ratepayers. I don’t think it’s an either-or. You’ve got to have both.”
Miller leaves the commission in less than two weeks, and Hansen said he hoped to take his seat at that time. The other members are attorney Marsha Smith, who was elevated to the commission by retired Gov. Cecil Andrus from a top staff position in the agency, and accountant Ralph Nelson.
Batt said he was looking for a nonattorney to focus less on the purely legal questions and more on the consumer issues, “and I think he represents that.”
Hansen speculated that southeastern Idaho Republican leaders in his five-county district would decide within the next 10 days on the slate of three nominees to replace him in the Legislature. Batt will make the selection from that slate.
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