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Published May 05, 2011, 07:21 PM

Clark Says He Won't Seek Third ND PSC Term

Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark announced Thursday he won't seek re-election next year, saying it was time for a "fresh set of eyes" in his utility regulatory job.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark announced Thursday he won't seek re-election next year, saying it was time for a "fresh set of eyes" in his utility regulatory job.

The 39-year-old Republican, who is considered a potential candidate for governor or Congress next year, said he does not have any plans to run for another public office.

North Dakota's public service commissioners serve six-year terms, and Clark, who was first elected to the commission in 2000, said he believed he will accomplish most of his goals by the end of his second term in 2012.

"You have to ask yourself, in another six or seven years beyond that, am I still going to have the same enthusiasm that I had when I walked in the door on that first day ... or even the same enthusiasm that I still have for the job today?" Clark said.

The PSC regulates utilities, grain elevators, coal mining, telecommunications, pipelines, wind energy projects, auctioneers and reclamation of mined lands. The three commissioners are each paid $90,122 annually.

Clark is president of the three-member board. His commission colleagues, Brian Kalk and Kevin Cramer, are also Republicans.

Joe Aronson, director of the state Democratic Party, said Clark's departure represents an opportunity for Democrats to gain a presence on the commission that they lost with the retirement of Bruce Hagen in 2000.

"It makes it a much more enticing opportunity for Democrats who were already looking at that office," Aronson said.

Democrat Brad Crabtree, who was defeated by Cramer in last year's PSC race, said he would give another campaign "serious consideration."

"What would be different running for an open seat is, you don't have the power of incumbency against you," Crabtree said.

Sam Stein, the state GOP chairman, said a Republican with an agricultural or energy background would be favored as the GOP nominee.

State Sen. Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck, the Republican Senate majority leader, lost to Kalk in 2008 for the GOP endorsement to run for the PSC. "I'm sure there will be a long list of people interested," Stenehjem said Thursday.

"You never say never," Stenehjem said of the possibility of his own candidacy. "You always keep your options open, but I'm pretty happy right where I'm at."

Clark served as a Republican state House member from Fargo for two sessions before he resigned in October 1997 to take a job as a Tax Department aide.

Former Gov. Ed Schafer appointed Clark as North Dakota's labor commissioner in September 1999. He succeeded Hagen on the PSC in 2000, defeating Democratic state Sen. Vern Thompson of Minnewaukan by 1,059 votes.

Clark was elected last November to a one-year term as president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, a Washington, D.C. group that represents state utility regulators.

He announced his plans to depart at the end of a PSC business meeting Thursday. Clark said he had been mulling whether to run for re-election for months, and had delayed an announcement until after the 2011 Legislature had ended. Lawmakers adjourned last week.

"I felt it was the right time to give somebody else a chance to do this job," Clark said. "A fresh set of eyes is always a good thing."