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State PUC member quitting to take telecommunications job


Rapid City Journal

David Montgomery, Journal staff

Monday, June 6, 2011


Public Utilities Commission vice chairman Steve Kolbeck, back center, listens to questions from the crowd during a community discussion concerning the Black Hills Power rate increase at Dunn Bros Coffee on Friday, April 23, 2010. Kolbeck is resigning to take a job with CenturyLink, a telecommunications company which purchased Qwest. (Kristina Barker/Journal staff)

Steve Kolbeck, the chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, and one of only two Democrats elected to statewide office in South Dakota, is resigning to work for a telecommunications company.

Kolbeck, elected to the PUC in 2006, will start work on June 20 as the South Dakota operations manager for CenturyLink, a Louisiana company that bought Qwest in April.

He said the decision was “all about my family.”

“There aren’t a lot of manager positions in the state of South Dakota in telecommunications,” Kolbeck said. “Any parent with four kids understands that with a pending election … it’s best to know all of your options.”

Kolbeck was up for re-election in 2012, an election that will also see appointed PUC commission Chris Nelson running for the final four years of his term.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard said he hopes to fill Kolbeck’s seat by the end of the month.

Republican Party leaders have said Kolbeck’s seat would be a top target in the 2012 election. But Kolbeck said he wasn’t worried about losing – just trying to take advantage of a certain opportunity now.

“I think I stood a very good chance to be re-elected,” Kolbeck said. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

South Dakota Democratic Party chairman Ben Nesselhuf said Kolbeck’s resignation was “a loss” but said the resignation wouldn’t hurt Democrats’ chances in the PUC election.

“Historically speaking, Democrats do well in PUC races,” Nesselhuf said.

Other than Kolbeck, the only other Democrat elected to statewide office in South Dakota is Sen. Tim Johnson.

Kolbeck said he discovered the job while researching the CenturyLink-Qwest merger as part of his PUC responsibilities.

At CenturyLink, Kolbeck said he will be focused on operations and not on dealing with government regulators – such as his soon-to-be former colleagues on the PUC.

Prior to being elected to the PUC in 2006, Kolbeck held positions with a variety of telecommunications companies including AT&T, Northern Telecom, SDN Communications and Alliance Communications.

In a statement, Daugaard thanked Kolbeck for his time on the PUC.

“Steve has been a dedicated public servant and he has worked hard to ensure that consumers are treated fairly,” Daugaard said.

Kolbeck said he was “very honored” to have been a commissioner.

“I’ve enjoyed my time as a public servant,” he said. “My family and I just decided that it was time to take the next step in my life.”

Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or