Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Tuesday appointed Kristie Fiegen of Sioux Falls, a former Republican state representative and current president of Junior Achievement of South Dakota, to the state Public Utilities Commission.
Fiegen, 48, succeeds Democrat Steve Kolbeck, who left the chairman’s post earlier this month to work for the telecom Cen-turyLink. Fiegen has been with Junior Achievement since 1994 and was a state representative from 1993 to 2001, overlapping with Daugaard’s term as a state senator.
She informed the Junior Achievement board of her decision Tuesday, board member Don Marker said. Her term at the PUC begins in August.
Fiegen described her new post as “quasi-judicial,” without a legislator’s power to set policy, and spoke of “an opportunity to be spokespeople” on energy issues. She said the governor’s office first contacted her about the job last week, and she spent the next few days researching the position and consulting with colleagues. Her interview and hiring was Friday.
“She was curious – like anyone would be – about what are the requirements of the job, what are we faced with, what’s our daily and weekly routine like,” PUC vice-chairman Gary Hanson said.
Dusty Johnson, a former PUC commissioner who is now Daugaard’s chief of staff, said the governor considered almost 90 candidates for the position. Johnson’s wife, Jacquelyn Johnson, is on the state Junior Achievement board. He said this played no role in Fiegen’s appointment.
From 1999 to 2001, Fiegen was a member of Xcel Energy’s state advisory board, “which advises Xcel management on the utility’s strategic direction in South Dakota,” according to the news release announcing the appointment.
Steve Willard, a lobbyist for South Dakota Electric Utility Companies, said he has known Fiegen for years. Both are from Parker. An all-Republican commission might change the dynamics of the commission, he said, but “partisanship shouldn’t be an issue.”
“The decisions are more science-based than political,” he said.
The state Democratic Party, meanwhile, said Fiegen had little relevant experience and characterized her appointment as cronyism.
“Daugaard has put the political positioning of his Republican friends ahead of South Dakota consumers,” party chairman Ben Nesselhuf said in a prepared statement.
Dusty Johnson countered that Fiegen has years of public service under her belt – including plenty of exposure to utility policy – and has sponsored legislation on telecommunications services for the deaf, 911 service and rural water systems.
Both Fiegen and Chris Nelson, who was appointed after Dusty Johnson resigned to take the job in the governor’s office, will be up for re-election in 2012 – Fiegen for a six-year term and Nelson for four.
The commissioners will vote on a chairman at a future meeting, Dusty Johnson said. Until then, Hanson will be the acting chairman.