The Republican race for the Public Service Commission District 2 nomination promises to be a bitter fight between incumbent Tony O’Donnell and his challenger, Representative Daniel Zolnikov.
It’s already getting ugly.
Noting that O’Donnell has been well enough to “show up in December, January, and February to political events,” Zolnikov claims that O’Donnell has not “shown up to Helena to work once since late November 2019 due to a surgery, yet has been healthy enough to collect his $100,000+ salary and frequently attends political events where he has continuously trashed my character.”
When told that O’Donnell had undergone severe complications from his surgery, including suffering from sepsis, Zolnikov doubled down, noting:
Let me get this straight. Tony ran for office against Kirk Bushman on the stance that Kirk never shows up to work. Tony says I am bought and paid for by the utilities this week at a Republican event. Tony continues to collect a paycheck without showing up. Tony attends political events. But since he has a health issue, no one can hold his actions accountable? He filed for re-election, he must think he is healthy enough to continue doing the job he hasn’t been doing for months.
Zolnikov appears to be right that O’Donnell ran against his primary opponent on the issue of attendance at work. The Independent Record reports he claimed that his opponent Kirk Bushman missed 40% of scheduled voting days:
O’Donnell told the Billings Gazette recently that Bushman was physically absent 40 percent of the time on Public Service Commission voting days.
Criticizing the failure to attend PSC meetings seems to be something of a pastime for Republican candidates for the regulatory agency, as District 3 commissioner Roger Koopman criticized his opponent John Vincent for missing votes to care for his wife with multiple sclerosis before defeating him in 2012, only to face criticism that he has failed to attend meetings as well.
There is an important question here: why is it that members of the Public Service Commission, especially conservative critics of the size of government who make an annual salary in excess of $100,000, feel so little pressure to attend work? Perhaps the local news outlet in Helena that did a deep dive into attendance at city commission meetings last year can look into it (deep snark intended).
It will be fascinating to see how this plays out. Will Zolnikov’s attack land or backfire? Will O’Donnell respond?
I can’t wait to see, almost as much as I wish at least one Democrat would file for the seat, challenging as the district might be to win.