Craig Greene, a Baton Rouge orthopedic surgeon making his first bid for public office, won Saturday’s election to the Louisiana Public Service Commission.
He defeated interim Public Service Commissioner Damon Baldone and former state Rep. Lenar Whitney, both of Houma, garnering 43,000 votes, 55 percent of the 78,265 casting ballots in 717 precincts across 13 parishes, according to the Secretary of State’s Office unofficial tally.
Baldone followed with 19,058 votes, ahead of Whitney, who had 16,207 votes.
The five elected Public Service Commission members set utility rates, usually a consumer’s second-largest monthly bill, regulate in-state trucking and oversee telecommunications.
Greene started looking at the race last year. He met early with the privately owned utilities that sell electricity to 2 million customers in Louisiana, and the industrial companies that are their biggest customers.
Greene collected three times more money than Baldone and Whitney put together. He secured the financial help of the state’s biggest Republican donors like Boysie Bollinger, the oilfield boat builder from Lockport, and Lane Grigsby, the Baton Rouge businessman.
Greene ran on the tried-and-true campaign promise of creating more jobs. Baldone tweaked him by reminding voters that the commission doesn’t create jobs. Rather, the regulatory agency sets utility rates, Baldone said, which in Louisiana are among the lowest in the nation, and that helps persuade companies to locate facilities in this state.
Though his father was one of the modern era’s first Republican state senators, Greene caught grief in some quarters for supporting Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in the runoff against Republican David Vitter. Greene, who had backed Republican Jay Dardenne in the primary, said he had personal issues with Vitter and went with Edwards instead.
He did promise to back the Republican candidate in the 2019 gubernatorial election.
Baldone had party purity issues of his own. A three-term Democratic state representative, he was tapped by Edwards in June to serve on the Public Service Commission until the election, and he switched party affiliations.
The last Democrat elected to the commission's 2nd District was Kathleen Blanco in 1989.
For the two decades since Blanco left the commission, voters have elected Republicans to serve as commissioner for the district. Seventy-five percent of the district’s 611,114 registered voters are white, and 37 percent are Republicans, according to the Secretary of State's Office.
About half live in the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas.
Greene will replace Scott Angelle, who was named by President Donald Trump in May to head the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
The Public Service Commission will make decisions in the coming year that will significantly affect electric bills. The utility companies want to replace their aging fleets with ones using newer technology. For consumers, that means electricity that costs less to make and can be produced in a way that produces less air pollution. But it also means the $1 billion or so these new plants cost will be added to the bills.
For commissioners, this means deciding whether to allow people to build the plants for private companies that will own them and can add their value into their profit calculations or require the utilities to buy power from merchants, on which no profit can be charged even if the electricity might be a little more expensive.