Trump-style Dysfunction Comes to Montana

The Montana Public Service Commission is far from living up to its name. Instead of public service, we get a highly regrettable rat’s nest of in-fighting among its all-Republican members. Now, even more regrettably, not only is this public agency refusing to honor Montana’s constitutionally guaranteed “right to know” about our own government, but actually filed a lawsuit against media outlets that ask for information.

Now where did they get the idea this is how you run government? Look no further than the Oval Office and its ongoing war with the free press, its refusal to provide public information and, in the end, its totally dysfunctional model of government.

As succinctly noted in the Missoulian’s editorial last Friday: “the Montana Public Service Commission appears to have once again forgotten that it is supposed to serve the public and is now suing the Billings Gazette and other news media that made public records requests. The newspaper is seeking more information about a recent email spying scandal in which Commissioner Randy Pinocci and PSC staffer Drew Zinecker obtained Commissioner Roger Koopman’s emails without his knowledge. The emails came to light only after they were posted on a right-wing website. Rather than produce the requested information, the PSC filed suit — a tactic used more and more often by government agencies hoping to delay the release of public documents and discourage those who can’t afford a costly legal battle.”

What the Montana Public Service Commission is supposed to be doing — and what taxpayers are shelling out over $100,00 annually for each of its five commissioners for — is weighing the costs claimed by Montana’s public utilities against the rates charged to consumers.

NorthWestern Energy has already put Montana’s consumers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in costs at the antiquated Colstrip coal-fired power plants and wants to stick us with hundreds of millions more. One might think the commission has its work cut out for it and ought to be full-time busy trying to keep Montanans from getting nailed with a hugely polluting coal plant and its enormous post-closure environmental cleanup costs. At least a reasonable person might think that that’s what the PSC should be doing.

But I guess it’s too much to expect these so-called “public servants” to do the job they were elected and are well-paid to do. Instead, we get what amounts to a grade-school-level fight internally and a big middle finger to the Montana press — and the citizens it serves — externally.

It’s worth noting that most Republicans run on a platform of “less government.” Why anyone who so disdains government would want to be part of the government is a good question. If they think government should be “run like a business” — instead of following the mandates of the constitutions which establish our form of government — maybe they ought to stick to the private sector.

Unfortunately, this is a huge and growing problem in our country right now. And it is being “led” from the very top as the Trump administration routinely lards public agencies with political toadies, fires those who disagree with a president who admits he doesn’t read, and corruptly shovels public largess to their private bank accounts and frivolous pursuits.

Fortunately, there is a remedy. It’s called “the election.” Come November, citizens will have a chance to mend our government by sending Republican candidates back to their beloved private enterprises — and electing those who can.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.