Scott Angelle, the former aide to Gov. Bobby Jindal who is running to be a utility regulator for much of the Baton Rouge and Lafayette area, has more money in his campaign war chest than all his opponents combined.
Five candidates are vying in the race to replace Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Field, of Baton Rouge. Field is retiring at the end of the year.
In addition to Angelle, of Breaux Bridge, other Republican candidates are state Rep. Erich Ponti and Sarah Holliday, both of Baton Rouge. Democrat Forest Wright, of New Orleans, and Greg Gaubert, No Party-Thibodaux, also are competing.
The election is set for Nov. 6. A runoff between the top two vote getters, if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, is scheduled Dec. 8.
The five elected PSC members, who represent more people than congressmen, oversee utility companies, set rates for monthly energy and water bills, evaluate and approve new power plants, as well as regulate telecommunications companies, tow trucks and moving companies.
Wright says because commissioners have to sort through complex engineering and high finance to understand corporate proposals, the choices they make decide how much Louisiana customers pay each month on their utility bills.
Thwat couple hundred dollars or so paid each month for power constitutes the second- or third-largest regular bill of a typical Louisiana household, Angelle said.
Angelle, 50, is the former secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources. He also was interim lieutenant governor, serving between Mitch Landrieu — who resigned to take over as mayor of New Orleans — and Jay Dardenne. He also was Jindal’s legislative liaison.
Since resigning as DNR secretary earlier this year, Angelle was tapped by Jindal to sit on the LSU Board of Supervisors. He voted to authorize cutting services at LSU hospitals, including those in Houma, Lafayette and Baton Rouge.
Angelle said he understands the study and work necessary to negotiate parties, who start off far apart, into workable agreements. He reported $512,110 in campaign contributions on hand, according to his Oct. 9 report.
His biggest backers — giving a total of about $76,000 — are the energy-related companies that DNR regulates. Elected officials donated about $41,000 to Angelle’s campaign.
Angelle and Ponti took contributions from lobbyists, political action committees and officials who represent or work for companies regulated by the PSC. Both said there was nothing wrong with accepting those contributions.
Gaubert, Holliday and Wright said they would not take donations from utility companies. The stance would guarantee their independence, they said. The three candidates, together, have raised about $37,000 in campaign funds.
Ponti, 47, reported the second highest amount of campaign funds on hand, with $292,801, according to the Oct. 9 reports.
Ponti had a much higher percentage of contributions — more than $60,000 — from groups and officials associated with regulated entities, according to his disclosures.
Baton Rouge lobbyists and lawyers, who represent companies regulated by the PSC, contributed about $56,000 more, the reports showed.
As chairman of the Louisiana House Commerce Committee, Ponti is charged with overseeing the PSC. A general contractor, Ponti said the PSC needs to be sensitive to how their regulatory decisions affect small businessmen.
“One of my top priorities on the Public Service Commission will be to require utilities to bring the transmission grid into the 21st century,” Ponti said. “This step will lower the cost of power to users, ensure long-term reliability and expedite the restoration of power after damaging storms and hurricanes.”
Of his five years as a legislator, Ponti has said he is proudest of sponsoring the Louisiana House’s redistricting plan to account for population changes mapped in the 2010 census. Progress on redrawing congressional districts had mired when it became apparent that Louisiana would lose a seat and force two incumbents into a race against each other.
Ponti worked out the plan the Louisiana House eventually adopted. The U.S. Department of Justice accepted the proposed changes.
Gaubert, 48, said he has been dealing with the PSC throughout his career, working as a retailer, manufacturing marine and industrial cable, and selling cable to utility companies.
Gaubert is the manager of Carmel Inn & Suites on the fringes of Thibodaux’s historic district.
“I’ve had to deal, firsthand, as a customer with the utility companies,” Gaubert said. “I understand how important electricity, water is for the small business … and I understand how difficult it can be to deal with these utility companies.”
Gaubert said he would serve one six-year term as commissioner. He has never before run for office, and said he doesn’t believe being a member of a political party allows for the independence needed to be a successful advocate on utility issues.
“I’m for lowering rates,” Gaubert said. “The rates should reflect reality and not be a reward for the (shareholders) of the utility company. … I want to keep the utility companies and the utility regulators in check.”
Holliday was vice president of Region 6 for the Louisiana Federation of Republican Women and president of Capital City Republican Women. She has run unsuccessfully for a seat in the Louisiana House and the East Baton Rouge Parish Metropolitan Council.
“I want to ensure a regulatory balance to enable the utilities to provide reliable service that is just reasonable and economically efficient for the ratepayers,” Holliday said.
A community activist who stepped away from her duties in several Republican Party groups to make this run, Holliday said regulators should focus on the details.
Out on the campaign trail talking to customers, Holliday said she was surprised at how many people were unaware of the PSC and its duties.
For instance, she said, some voters had no clue what the various surcharges were on their monthly electric bills.
She said a commissioner needs to visit with consumers about issues, such as energy independence, and their effect on individual monthly bills.
“The district deserves a public servant who will fight for our needs with integrity and get things done,” Holliday said.
Wright, 35, is an energy policy expert who said he is the only candidate who regularly attends PSC meetings.
He argues that his deep knowledge with a wide array of utility regulation issues being debated and his understanding of the regulatory processes will help get the work done.
He has developed business strategies and regulatory policies for sustainable energy futures for Shell International Exploration and Production Co.
He also has worked with The Alliance for Affordable Energy, a consumer group in New Orleans.
He said he spearheaded projects such as the Energy Smart NOLA program, energy rater and solar certification courses, and the LA Green Corps home weatherization training program.
“It is the PSC’s responsibility to look carefully and ensure that the public is being served first and receiving the best possible deal,” Wright said.
Wright said the PSC should do more than umpire corporate decisions on utilities. Commissioners also need to develop sound energy policies and programs that can return money to families and to businesses.
The newly redrawn 2nd PSC district covers all or part of 13 parishes, stretching from the northern parts of Livingston Parish, including south Baton Rouge and Central, the Felicianas, Pointe Coupee, much of West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes; south to the Gulf Coast to include the “Bayou Communities” in Lafourche, Terrebonne and St. Mary parishes; and west to include parts of the Acadiana parishes of Lafayette, Iberia and St. Martin parishes.
The Secretary of State’s records show that 43.6 percent, or 255,735, of the District 2 registered voters live in the Baton Rouge metro area. Lafayette and its suburbs account for 179,238 of the registered voters in the district. The Bayou Communities have 152,894 registered voters, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.