Senators Erik Simonson and David Tomassoni, two prominent Northland DFL'ers from Duluth and Chisholm respectively, both have applied to serve on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
As of Thursday night, 31 people had offered to take the job, but Gov. Tim Walz will appoint only one individual to a six-year term on the five-person commission. If either lawmaker is chosen, they will need to step down from the Minnesota Legislature. Both senators' seats will be up for election in November of this year.
As for his decision to put his name forward, Simonson said: "Those positions don't come open very often. It's once a blue moon to have an opportunity to apply for something like that. Obviously, you can tell that by the amount of interest."
Tomassoni did not respond to a News Tribune call Thursday afternoon requesting comment on his own interest in serving on the PUC. Tomassoni is now entering his 28th year as a state legislator, after being elected to four terms in the House and six in the Senate. He is the ranking minority member of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee.
Simonson, who served two terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2016, is the ranking minority member of the Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee.
Tomassoni and Simonson aren't the only seasoned lawmakers in the running to fill the PUC vacancy. Rep. Ray Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, now in his fourth term, also has applied.
Whoever Walz taps for the job can expect to pull down an annual salary of $140,000 for as long as they serve on the commission. The body handles some politically sensitive hot-potato issues, including the approval of utility rate increases and pipeline projects. To avoid too much political slant, no more than three members of the commission may be from the same party.
Outgoing PUC Commissioner Dan Lischultz is a registered Democrat.
Simonson acknowledged the stiff competition for the PUC opening, but if selected he said he thinks the job would be a good fit for him.
"Coming into the Legislature, an area that I've kind of migrated toward and really developed a strong interest in is energy policy, because it's really important to Minnesota as a whole, but especially to the northern half. That's the committee that I've served on in both the House and Senate," he said.
"I've always thought that if I ever leave the Legislature, that would be one area that I'd want to focus on is energy policy, as the next step in my career, whatever that might be," Simonson said.
PUC rules stipulate that at least one commissioner should come from outside the seven-county metro area. Simonson said Commission member John Tuma already fits that bill but lives within about 50 miles of St. Paul.
"So you can certainly make the argument that there's a need for more representation from greater Minnesota, and there's nobody on there from the northern half of the state," Simonson said.
Even if Simonson doesn't get tapped to serve on the PUC, it's uncertain that he will continue on as a legislator. When asked of his intentions to seek re-election come November, barring a stint with the PUC, he said: "I'm still kind of on the fence."