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NDNA debate is back on -- but with PSC candidates

The North Dakota Newspaper Association debate is back on, just a couple of days after being canceled. Organizers invited the state's two Public Service Commission candidates, and got confirmation from both by Saturday. The event will be held Apri...

Brad Crabtree
Brad Crabtree portrait

The North Dakota Newspaper Association debate is back on, just a couple of days after being canceled.

Organizers invited the state's two Public Service Commission candidates, and got confirmation from both by Saturday. The event will be held April 30 in Fargo during the NDNA annual convention.

It originally was set to feature U.S. House of Representatives candidates but was canceled Thursday when two of the three invited candidates declined to participate.

Incumbent Republican Kevin Cramer has served on the Public Service Commission since being appointed by Gov. John Hoeven in 2003. He was elected to the office in 2004, and got the Republican endorsement to run again last month at the state convention in Grand Forks.

Cramer said he was "very pleased" the commission candidates were asked to be in the debate. Being invited acknowledges the importance of the office, he said, especially now because the commission regulates the energy sector, a growing part of the state's economy.

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"While it's the lowest on the ballot, it's very important in terms of the consequences and implications of the office," he said of the position.

Kulm, N.D., rancher Brad Crabtree was endorsed to challenge Cramer at last month's Democratic-NPL Party state convention in Fargo.

Since 2002, Crabtree has served as policy director of the Great Plains Institute, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that brings industry, government and environmental groups together to work on energy policies in 12 states and Manitoba.

Crabtree said the debate will be a chance to clarify inaccurate statements and accusations by Cramer, and allow him to explain his recently unveiled energy efficiency goals for the office.

"This debate will give me an opportunity to lay out what I think is an important agenda for the Public Service Commission, which is to held users save more money by being more energy-efficient," he said. "North Dakota stands out nationally for lack of leadership in this area."

The two candidates have "very different philosophies" in how they approach regulations, Cramer said, and "philosophy does matter" because North Dakota voters elect their energy regulators on a statewide, partisan ballot. But he expects a good -- and civil -- debate with Crabtree.

"I think it will be entertaining and hopefully intellectually stimulating," Cramer said. "I'm certain it will be quite clean and gentlemanly, shall we say."

"I think it will be more interesting than the U.S. House debate, frankly," he added.

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Organizers are expecting as many as 150 people and reporters to attend the debate. Crabtree said that audience will allow the candidates to outline their goals for the commission and get heard by more voters.

"It's a great opportunity to reach out to a wider range of North Dakotans," Crabtree said. "Up until now, a lot of the campaign has been the convention and district conventions. This will be an opportunity to reach out to a statewide audience."

Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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