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McGovern name back in SD politics

PUC candidate Matt McGovern, left, tours the Mitchell Technical Institute Energy Training Center on Thursday with Wind Turbine Technology department head Stacey Eddy. MTI President Greg Von Wald was also on the tour. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Matt McGovern said he was "born on the campaign trail," and now, at 40, he is running his own race for the first time. McGovern, a Sioux Falls lawyer and the grandson of former South Dakota congressman, senator and presidential candidate George McGovern, is running for the Democratic nomination for a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. George McGovern, 89, is a Mitchell native and still resides part-time in the city.

Matt McGovern said he feels the PUC is a natural place to launch his political career.

"You can do a lot of good for people as a member of the PUC, because it impacts so many people," he said. "We all use energy, phones or grain elevators.

"The PUC can help create new jobs in clean energy and can help put people to work making homes and businesses more efficient. The PUC makes decisions on whether to allow utility rate hikes, so it is important to have commissioners who are independent from the influence of lobbyists and the utilities the PUC regulates."

Thursday, McGovern toured the Energy Training Center at Mitchell Technical Institute with MTI President Greg Von Wald and Wind Turbine Technology department head Stacey Eddy. They told him of the program's growth, with 61 students now enrolled as its third year nears an end.

McGovern, who first toured the facility more than two years ago, said he wanted to hear about the wind turbine technology program and discuss how wind energy is creating good-paying jobs for South Dakotans.

He said the wind industry is under attack from special interests in Washington and state capitols around the country, with a production tax credit threatened by some members of Congress.

"I mean, it'll just fall off the cliff if it isn't passed," McGovern said.

Von Wald said similar tax credits for oil and gas development are written into federal law, but wind production tax credits must be renewed. It threatens the growth of the industry, he said.

McGovern also spoke of other PUC-related issues, especially the independence, or lack thereof, of PUC members.

"As a candidate I have pledged not to accept campaign contributions from lobbyists or the utilities that the Public Utilities Commission regulates," McGovern said.

"I challenge other candidates to make the same pledge. It is important for the commission to put the interests of consumers, not corporations, first."

He has been critical of the PUC for its handling of a firm that went out of business, costing several farmers large amounts of money.

"The Anderson Seed Company scandal is a good example of why we need new commissioners who will work to protect consumers and farmers," he said. "The PUC is responsible for oversight of grain elevators. The company went bankrupt and cost South Dakota farmers $2.6 million.

"The PUC is attempting to recover the $100,000 bond, which is too little, too late. We need to reform the bonding program and we need new commissioners to make sure this never happens again."

He said no Democrat has announced plans to run against him. McGovern expects to receive the nomination at the party's state convention in July at Aberdeen.

He said he's running for office the old-fashioned way, by shaking hands and talking to people.

"I'm going to events like electric co-op meetings, community events or anywhere where there is a group of people to meet," McGovern said. "I've been listening to South Dakotans to hear about what they want from their elected officials in Pierre."

McGovern thinks he will be able to run a competitive race against incumbent Kristie Fiegen, who was appointed to the PUC by Gov. Dennis Daugaard in 2011 to fill a seat vacated when Commissioner Steve Kolbeck resigned. Kolbeck was the only Democrat holding a statewide office in South Dakota when he stepped down. This year's election will be Nov. 6.

While this is his maiden campaign as a candidate, McGovern has been around politics his entire life. He was on the cover of Life magazine with his grandfather when he was five months old.

Matt McGovern said he doesn't mind people asking him about his famous grandfather.

"Not at all," he said. "I am proud of what he has done for the country."

Politics are a family tradition.

Matt McGovern's father, James Rowen, was a longtime fixture in Wisconsin Democratic politics and ran for mayor of Madison, Wis., in 1979. Rowen now works as a writer and consultant.

Matt McGovern was known as Matt McGovern-Rowen for years but dropped the "Rowen" and is now legally Matt McGovern, which he said is the name friends have long used for him.

As a law student, he worked in a prosecutor's office and for the U.S. Department of Justice. McGovern came to South Dakota after law school to work for the United States District Court in Rapid City.

He considered a run for the U.S. Senate against Sen. John Thune in 2010 but then dropped the idea in December 2009. He worked as director of Repower South Dakota, supporting environmentally responsible policies, in 2009 and 2010.

Chris Huber/Republic PUC candidate Matt McGovern, left, tours the Mitchell Technical Institute Energy Training Center on Thursday with Wind Turbine Technology department head Stacey Eddy. MTI President Greg Von Wald was also on the tour.