MH: Commissioner Brad Molnar, welcome to Montana Headlines -- thanks for taking the time to do this interview.
First, we've got to ask this question: are you related to Thomas Molnar…
Brad Molnar: Yes. First cousin.
MH: Hold on, wait for the rest of the question. Thomas Molnar, the famous Hungarian conservative philosopher and historian/political theorist?
Brad Molnar: No. Wrong Hungarian, sorry. Cousin Tom runs a septic pumping service in South Bend, Ind. I don't think that he is very philosophical about it. Don't suppose he thinks it's a political statement either. I could be wrong about that though.
MH: Well, we’re off to quite a start, aren’t we? So let's start with a simple but crucial question: what exactly does a PSC Commissioner do?
Brad Molnar: All fifty states have some form of Commission. Fed regulators (FCC and FERC) share responsibilities with us. If state or federal legislation grants monopoly power we act as a brake to make sure the customer get the value as if there were competition. I'm pretty sure the brake is broke.
MH: Correct us if we're wrong, but you seem to enjoy your job as a PSC Commissioner immensely.
Brad Molnar: Yup.
MH: Put differently, a lot of public office holders enjoy the attention, the power, or the potential for future political ambitions that go with their jobs (yes, that was a little side-swipe at your opponent) -- but don't necessarily seem to enjoy the day to day grind of their lives in public service. You seem, more than most, to just plain enjoy doing what you do. Do we have that right, and is this typical for PSC Commissioners?
Brad Molnar: I truly enjoy the job. Like most before me I am amazed at how different it is from how it is perceived. I would say that all five of us are very dedicated to doing the job as best we can. Even Toole, which surprises me. But he is so political and infecting the Commission that he overshadows the good he can do. Raney and Jergeson have become far more political since Toole got elected.
MH: What is it that you find so enjoyable or satisfying about this job?
Brad Molnar: The total and ongoing exposure to new problems and various solutions in a room filled with very intelligent people and very different ideas. The fight for individual liberty and against runaway liberalism is fought here every day. But it’s not like in the legislature -- you can't go back to your caucus at the mid-day break or go home. You are in for four years. I've actually had to develop people skills...
OK "try" to develop people skills.
MH: We've heard it said that PSC Commissioners have a more direct impact on the daily lives of Montanans than do many state-wide positions that are higher profile. Is that true, and if so, could you explain?
Brad Molnar: We make the Appropriations Committee look like a bunch of panty-waists. Schweitzer talks (and talks and talks,) about energy but we analyze myriad proposals constantly. We recently implemented an additional 50 MW of QF wind (never mind the jargon just catch the drift.) If history holds that will cost consumers over a billion dollars more than the electricity is worth.
And we have zero capacity for ancillary services to firm it. NWE was against it. Montana Consumer Council was against it. I was the only no vote. The press never reported it (Who would write the story and who would understand it?). Only lobbyists and special interest liked it. By the time it kicks in no one will remember it and those that voted for it will be retiring from their new jobs as lobbyists for the same special interests. (Least ways that's my humble opinion)
On a 3-2 vote we OK'd sending 2,000,000 of NWE ratepayer dollars to Portland and Seattle to help spread the word about energy efficiency in the wood pulp industry. I'm sure that most of that money will find its way back to Montana via liberal PACS. Not one word in the daily press. TRY THAT in the legislature.
A rate increase of $15M got big press but the $60M "tracker" we passed several weeks later never got a mention. I was the only no vote and will soon show the world why. But the "why" is a twenty year deal. Legislative actions are only good for two years. Our mistakes can't be undone, are under analyzed, and in the billions of dollars. That is why we have more impact.
And the obvious. You get an energy bill every month. All business and government entities get a utility bill every month -- so you actually pay all three.
MH: Readers of Montana Headlines know that we find your opponent, Billings Mayor Ron Tussing, to be... well, let's not go there.
From a public-interest perspective, we were definitely rooting for Curry in the Democratic primary, but as we wrote in an earlier post, "From a punditry perspective, Molnar vs. Tussing would be a dream: sort of a to-the-death political cage match."
You don't seem like someone to back down from a fight, and you're certainly in one. We haven't seen a lot of fireworks yet -- when will it start, and what shape will it take?
Brad Molnar: It's definitely started. The state Demo party has filed grievances against me with the Office of Political Practices about the Billings Brownout. They were thrown out because Noonan tried twice to get the form right but couldn't quite grasp the concept. Mary Jo Fox (formerly with Raciciot then Martz -- now Tussing's campaign manager) has filed and amended several, also on the Billings Brownout, and of course the D's on the Commission have asked for a ruling from the AG also stemming from the Billings Brownout.
Plainly they feel the Billings Brownout is a good thing in need of attack to try to drown out Tussing's enormous negatives by creating some for me. Pretty stupid. EVERYbody I have talked to about it sees right through it. Does anybody think Tussing could even win Mayor again? The last three days of his campaign for Mayor were a gathering of some of the slimiest people in Montana politics. How they escaped prosecution I have no idea. I expect I'll get some on me as all the old ones are back plus a few new faces.
Because they are issueless they have really tied me up with all the work I have to do on their inane complaints. It is very consuming of emotional capital, money and time. IS this really the best way to form a new government every two years? The Tussing campaign (Led by Mary Jo Fox and Joe Gunthals) is the spiritless fate we must now suffer for failing to rein in crap-mongers during so many campaign cycles. Especially the last mayoral campaign in Billings and the Fox v Cooney for Senate. I fully expect a repeat of the final days of the mayor’s race with enough crap slung by "independent expenditures" to make me vote for Tussing. Tussing’s name is so negative that they can't raise him up. They need to try to bring me down.
MH: One war that you are definitely winning, from what our eastern Montana readers tell us, is the Burma-Shave sign war. Do you expect to maintain your commanding Burma-Shave lead over Tussing -- and so our readers who don’t make it onto the roads of PSC District 2 can know what on earth we're talking about, could you share a couple of your favorite Burma-Shave campaign sign sequences?
Brad Molnar: Displaying all the creativity and originality that Tussing can muster on energy and telecom issues ("I want to explore options and "look for"...never mind) -- Ron Tussing has copied my signs.
MH: Mayor Tussing really is shameless, isn’t he? But in all fairness, he did manage to compose a puerile ditty about the city administrator he was in a fight with -- readers can look that monumental act of creativity up in the MH archives (search for "The House that Ron Tussing Built") -- or in the court records from when the City of Billings was being taken to the cleaners for millions in no small part because of Tussing.
We digress shamelessly -- go on...
Brad Molnar: Of course I copied them from the Burma Shave idea but let’s admit that I took them to a new level in Montana politics. The people that have mentioned Tussing's signs, regardless of party leanings, all use the word "copy cat".
What else did he think people would feel? That he was clever? The rest of us learned in fourth grade that "copycats" were to be shunned on the playground. He has a right to do it but it's dumb and again raises all of his other myriad ethics issues.
But for the unenlightened they are signs with jingles on them rather like the old Burma Shave signs. Some are silly but all fit my theme.
Those Liberal Fellas / Sound Real Clever / Do their ideas work / Never Ever / Molnar for Public Service Commission – (This is the only sign to be stolen so far; last cycle it was the only one to be driven over.)
Mine it now / Drill it now / Don't need Arabs / To show us how / Molnar for Public Service Commission – (This one is very popular. Got me labled a racist. Sheesh.)
When near a school / Drive real slow / Let those little / Voters grow / Molnar for Public Service Commission -- ( This is also a carryover from last cycle. Actually from an original.)
Can't make him run / Can't make him cry / Molnar is / A stand up guy / Molnar for PSC Molnar for PSC -- (In case they were wondering.)
MH: These are, of course, 5 separate signs in a row, and you have to wait a bit for the next line -- very effective. As noted before, you are crushing the opposition in the Burma-Shave wars. Turning to more serious topics on the campaign front, where is this election going to be fought and won?
Brad Molnar: I think that I have to play a heads up game but it is already decided. In redistricting my area was designed to be Republican and Jergeson’s was designed to be Dem. The others are plus or minus 6%.
But 140,000 of my 200,000 voters all live in Yellowstone County. Obama people are really registering a lot of people here but we don't know how many of those will actually vote. That and the Baucus money thing are the only two unknowns.
Other than that the Gazette is the paper of record for the district and everywhere I go people are well aware of Ron's reneging on the $160,000 pay to leave, shoving the reporter and claiming self defense, the law suits, the multiple ethics violations, voting money for his wife’s projects, subordination violations, lying under oath, being already bought and paid for by lobbyists, etc.
Getting yard or Burma sign locations is easy. I just have to say that Tussing is my opponent. I think that the majority of people have already made up their minds about us. If he is the kind of guy (with the kind of followers he has) they want on the PSC they can have him. But plainly even those that supported him for Mayor have come to see that the City Manager was right and Tussing had to go to protect the people of Billings and now they have buyer’s remorse.
I think the primary numbers show that. Curry's campaign was nonexistent (I saw just two yard signs). The Curry votes were not Pro Curry. They were anti-Tussing. No idea what that means in the general. People should wonder why the Dems and liberals are so willing to debase themselves to get Tussing on the PSC when they already have a majority and the odds of Repubs sweeping all three open seats are long.
MH: You mentioned the Gazette as the paper of record in your PSC district. Do you believe that the Montana press in general and the Billings Gazette in particular has given you fair and balanced coverage during your tenure as commissioner and during this campaign?
Brad Molnar: In general "no." But, in truth, I think it is improving. Dennison and I have a respect for each other and trade barbs without ongoing animosity. Actually a healthy reporter/reportee relationship.
I miss talking with Chuck Johnson. He was very unfair to Judy Martz but always fair with me. I think, and hope, that my chagrin with LEE lies with the editors. I know it is with AP. Gouras is OK. Hergenrider in Billings tries to be fair but Lutey is nothing but a partisan hack. The new Capitol Correspondent for the GF Tribune has definite Democrat leanings. Sometimes he overrides them sometimes not. The jury is still out on him.
What's her name, the old GF Capital correspondent, was great. Very unbiased writing but she went to work for Lee in Missoula. Lucky Missoula. AP should have picked her up for Helena. Assume I will have between 45 days and 4 years to regret these comments.
MH: How about being a little more specific and forthright in answering the rest of these questions!
Anyway, while we're on the press, tell us about your working relationship with the Billings Outpost and its editor, David Crisp. Crisp at Billings Blog and Montana Headlines are the totality of the political blogging scene here in this part of the state, so we take a keen interest in the success of the Outpost.
Brad Molnar: I have total respect for David as a person, for his intellect, his ethics, and his journalistic capacities.
MH: While he often describes himself as a conservative, it would seem that you and he would probably have slightly different conceptions of what that word exactly means.
Brad Molnar: I think that David is more like a European style "liberal/conservative" and I am perhaps "right" of that sniveling, teary eyed, limp wristed, panty-waist that wrote Genghis Khan’s prisoner policy.
Dave's and my differences are probably more specific – for example, where we might both agree that the Full Faith and Credit clause of the US Constitution would require all states to recognize a gay marriage from any state, I would argue that it should not because of the 10th Amendment but he would challenge my conservative credentials for making such an interpretative argument after standing on fundamentalist interpretation ideals for so long. Hope that is not too obtuse; and that Dave concurs.
MH: I imagine that we’ll find out, since Billings Blog and MH regularly engage in good-natured, yet substantive disputes.
Anyway, in spite of your differences, your column was a staple at the Outpost for some time.
Brad Molnar: It was very popular. Even in Wyoming. But the #1 comment I got was from Dem's telling me how surprised they were that they actually agreed with me. Dave paid me $30 per column and never tried to censor me. People still tell me they miss it; but alas.
And I miss writing it. Actually the column appeared in several papers off and on.
Tommorrow: Molnar on labor unions, energy deregulation, slimy campaigning, interactions with the federal government, the governor, and much more...