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ND PSC race draws allegations of corruption, extremism

BISMARCK -- With most returns in, Republican state Sen. Randy Christmann held a sizable lead over Democrat Brad Crabtree for the state's open Public Service Commission seat.

As of 11:10 p.m., Christmann had 54 percent of the vote to Crabtree's 41 percent with 388 of 426 precincts reporting incomplete and unofficial results. Libertarian Joshua Voytek had 4 percent.

The results were not complete as of press time, but Christmann said he was comfortable with the lead.

"Not all the votes are in, but I think it's looking very good," he said. "I'm looking forward to making the transition here."

Crabtree, who conceded the race, couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

The race was heated, drawing allegations of corruption and radical environmentalism.

Christmann squared off against Crabtree, an energy policy specialist, in his bid to fill an open seat on the three-member state board that regulates a range of industries, including gas and electric utilities and telecommunications.

Crabtree, 43, from Ellendale, sought to make the race a referendum on the PSC's campaign finance practices. He said the willingness of current commissioners to accept campaign money from groups and individuals tied to companies the PSC regulates directly is unethical and vowed not to do so himself.

Crabtree also raised the issue when he ran for the PSC in 2010, losing to current commissioner Kevin Cramer, who is running for the state's sole seat in the U.S. House.

Christmann, 52, from Hazen, has defended the practice as ethical. Like the current commissioners, he has accepted tens of thousands of dollars from regulated interests.

He sought to paint Crabtree as a radical environmentalist who would be beholden to renewable energy groups and other similar interests.

Christmann has been a state senator since 1994. Both he and Crabtree are also ranchers.

The Republican has touted his legislative and agriculture experience. He also serves as a paid board member for a telecommunications company regulated by the PSC.

As of press time, Christmann had 153,159 votes, Crabtree had 116,969 and Voytek had 12,392.

Public Service commissioners serve six-year terms and are paid $95,611 per year.