Susan Wefald won't seek re-election

BISMARCK -- Public Service Commissioner Susan Wefald's announcement Friday that 16 years in the job is long enough has spurred ambitions among potential candidates of both parties.

BISMARCK -- Public Service Commissioner Susan Wefald's announcement Friday that 16 years in the job is long enough has spurred ambitions among potential candidates of both parties.

Democrats and Republicans alike predict their statewide conventions next spring will see contested races for the nomination. Several people are considering the race, they said Friday.

Wefald issued the news Friday that she'll step down when her current term is over next December. It came mere weeks after public declarations seemed to point to a re-election bid.

Wefald, 60, is the first woman to serve on the three-member PSC. After appointment in 1993, she won election in 1994, 1996 and 2002.

She said Friday she hadn't yet made up her mind when she spoke at a Republican Party event in October and during a pipeline hearing in September, making statements at both hinting she'd seek re-election.


"I have been thinking about (not running) for several months," she said, but didn't want people to know she was wavering. Once someone says they aren't running, or may not run, it can't be undone, she noted.

She said it is time to do something else. Though she has found the issues fascinating, she said, it can be grueling and complex, making for a stressful job.

Fellow commissioners Kevin Cramer and Tony Clark were surprised at the news.

"All indications...were she would probably run, Cramer said.

Clark said her address to state Republican committee officials recently sounded like someone seeking re-election.

Some of the several people mentioned Friday as potential candidates include Democrat Cheryl Bergian of Fargo, who ran unsuccessfully against Clark last year. She said she doesn't know if she might run for Wefald's seat or any political post.

Rep. Ben Vig, D-Aneta, said he'd visited with people about running even before Wefald's announcement and will talk with family and friends over the upcoming holidays about it. He's interested in railroad rates, remaining pockets of the state with no cell phone reception and, closest to home, the proposed Keystone crude oil pipeline cuts right through his district.

Another Democrat, Sen. Aaron Krauter, D-Regent, said he is "seriously considering it."


Possible Republican candidates are Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem of Bismarck and Rep. Rae Ann Kelsch of Mandan.

"I'm certainly interested and I'll be looking into it," Stenehjem said. He's had his eye on the PSC for some time but would not have considered challenging Wefald for the nomination if she sought re-election, he said.

Kelsch said, "It's a job I've been extremely interested in, something I have to think about." By mid-Friday afternoon, several people had called her and asked if she would run.

One person suggested by others said he's not interested. Doug Goehring, a farmer from Menoken, said, "I would have considered it a while ago," but not now. He was the unsuccessful GOP candidate for agriculture commissioner in 2004 and 2006 and also was unsuccessful in seeking Gov. John Hoeven's appointment as insurance commissioner in October.

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.

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