AP News

SD Republicans nominate Nelson, Fiegen to PUC

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The two Republicans selected to run for new terms on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission pledged Friday to protect consumers, including farmers who lost money when they sold sunflowers to a failed grain-buying company that cannot pay them.

Delegates at the Republican State Convention voted unanimously Friday to nominate incumbents Chris Nelson, 47, and Kristie Fiegen, 49, to run for the seats they currently hold on the commission that regulates grain warehouses and natural gas, electric and telephone utilities. Both were appointed to fill vacancies after previous commissioners resigned, and they are now seeking election to remain on the panel.

Nelson, a former secretary of state, is running for a four-year term against Democrat Nick Nemec, a farmer from Holabird. Fiegen, a former state lawmaker, is seeking a six-year term against Matt McGovern, a lawyer who is the grandson of former U.S. Sen. George McGovern.

At the Democratic State Convention a week ago, Nemec and McGovern said their campaigns will criticize Nelson and Fiegen for failing to protect farmers hurt by the collapse of Anderson Seeds Co. Inc., which owes farmers in South Dakota an estimated $2.6 million for sunflowers delivered to the company.

The two Republican commissioners said they were not even on the commission when it first licensed Anderson Seeds in 2010.

Nelson said the commission has done everything it could to protect farmers under current state law. The commission plans to unveil a proposal to strengthen state laws governing the regulation of grain warehouses and grain buyers.

"I will do everything I can to protect our farmers," Nelson told the convention delegates.

McGovern, one of the Democratic candidates, said the commission should have worked to change laws earlier after other grain buyers failed in past years. In such situations, South Dakota law should require that farmers be paid before banks that have loaned money to grain buyers, he said.

"What they're doing now is too little, too late," McGovern said.

A Canadian company has said it has an agreement to purchase the Anderson Seed Co. site in Redfield, S.D. But officials have said it appears there will be no money left to pay farmers after the proceeds of the sale are used to repay a secured bank loan.

In his convention speech, Nelson said he offers voters a record of integrity, experience and trustworthiness. The commission resolves disputes involving utility companies, their customers and others, including utilities' requests to raise rates, he said.

"It is imperative we have PUC commissioners that make decisions with integrity, not with preconceived biases, and that those decisions are based on law and facts," Nelson said.

Fiegen said her top priority is to protect the utility companies' customers. She said federal agencies have imposed regulations that have raised the cost of electricity generated by coal-fired plants and have hurt rural telephone companies.

"This is a commissioner who is going to stand up for South Dakotans and fight against the federal government," she said.

Fiegen said she also is working to improve cellphone service in the sprawling rural state.

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