PUC candidate Nemec wants check-off for grainFormer legislator Nemec running for seat on state regulatory commission.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Nick Nemec grew up fascinated by politics. As a farm kid in northeast South Dakota, Nemec loved social studies in school and attended political rallies in town with his mom. He joined a Young Democrats club in high school and volunteered for George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign as a 14-year-old.
Eventually he served a pair of terms in the Legislature and worked for the South Dakota Democratic Party. Nemec ended up knowing McGovern personally and talking politics with him and other prominent South Dakota Democrats.
“I was always interested in politics, even as a young boy,” he said.
That interest abides. Nemec is now running for a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission in the Nov. 6 election.
He said the Anderson Seed Co. case, in which 39 farmers and other people and firms who did business with the Redfield company lost $2.6 million, fueled his desire to run for the PUC. The victims will split a $100,000 bond the firm was required to post, which Nemec terms “pennies on the dollar” and an unfair deal for people who trusted the business.
“The issue that really burned me up was the grain warehouse issue,” he said. “I just felt the ball had been dropped on South Dakota farmers and it really bothered me that these guys could deliver their grain to this place and get left holding the bag,”
Nemec said the PUC did a poor job of regulating the elevator, so farmers and other people who did business with Anderson Seed paid the price. He said while that is the primary reason he’s running, he’s not a one-issue candidate.
Nemec said the PUC should promote renewable energy like wind and solar and he would do so as a commissioner.
“If I am elected to the PUC, I would want to be a consumer advocate,” he said. “It is the Public Utilities Commission, not the Corporate Utilities Commission. I would want to make sure utility rates are kept reasonable.”
He has also proposed a 1-cent check-off program to create a fund to assist farmers who were denied fair payments, such as in the Anderson Seed fiasco. The state could collect 1 cent per bushel of grain sold in the state when funds are needed to assist people.
With 1 billion bushels harvested on an average year, the check-off would create a $10 million fund annually. But Nemec said the check-off would be a “fallback” only used in case such an incident occurs.
If his proposal receives a lot of support this fall, whether he’s elected or not, perhaps it could be passed as a state law next spring, he said, and it could include a section to cover the losses of the Anderson Seed customers.
“In three months you’d take care of it at a penny a bushel,” he said.
Nemec said producers who don’t want to participate could be offered an opt-out, although that might mean they could not take part in the program if they were cheated or lost money in the future.
“The farmers who are bringing grain into the elevator just have to get paid,” he said. “Absolutely. It’s an unsatisfactory system the way it’s set up now.” Even when the Anderson Seed property and buildings are sold, bankers and other businesses will get reimbursed first, Nemec said. “The farmers will stand last,” he said. The lax laws on grain warehouses may point to an attitude toward corporations and big businesses on the PUC that needs to be changed, Nemec said.
He is running against PUC Chairman Chris Nelson, who was appointed to the commission in January 2011 after Mitchell resident Dusty Johnson, who had just been elected to a second term on the commission, resigned to become Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s chief of staff.
It’s not a personal battle, Nemec said.
“Chris is a guy I’ve always enjoyed visiting with,” he said.
State law mandated that due to Johnson’s resignation, the PUC seat be up for a vote at the next general election. Nelson and Nemec are competing for the final four years of the six-year term.
The South Dakota PUC has three commissioners who serve six-year terms and are paid $91,390 annually. The other two commissioners, both Republicans, are Kristie Fiegen, who is running for a full six-year term after being appointed to the commission in 2011, and Gary Hanson, now in his second term, which ends in 2014.
The PUC regulates investorowned electric, natural gas and telephone utilities and has lesser authority overseeing wireless communication companies and cooperative, independent and municipal utilities as well as other duties, including warehouse regulation.
Nemec said he feels he could hold down the full-time PUC job while still living on his farm outside of Holabird. He lives 40 miles from Pierre, where the PUC offices are located.
Nemec, who turned 54 Wednesday, and his wife Mary Jo bought their farm 24 years ago and raised their four daughters there.
It’s a quiet campaign, with some forums and chances to meet voters but little media attention.
Nemec was in Mitchell on Tuesday to meet voters, shake some hands and speak to the Davison County Democrats at LifeQuest.
He said he hopes to raise and spend about $20,000, including some of his own money.
Nemec realizes Nelson, a former two-term secretary of state who ran for Congress in 2010 and is in his fourth statewide campaign, has a big edge on him in name recognition.
“It’s tough. I know it’s an uphill race.”
Nemec said his goal is to raise awareness of grain warehouse issues and be a champion of consumer advocacy.
“If I can do that, I’ll consider it a success,” he said.