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With longtime Public Service Commissioner Frank Landis retiring, the district that includes Lincoln will have a new representative for the first time in 30 years.

Political newcomer Christa Yoakum is facing off against former state Sen. Dan Watermeier to represent District 1, which covers Lancaster, Gage, Cass, Otoe, Johnson, Nemaha, Pawnee and Richardson counties.

Yoakum, a Democrat from Lincoln who works at a nonprofit agency, said she is running for the "often overlooked" office because she wants to ensure all Nebraskans have their property and natural resources rights protected while also having access to new technologies such as Next Generation 911 and the best available rural broadband.

Watermeier, a Republican farmer from Syracuse, said he's running to be a "voice for infrastructure and growth for all Nebraskans," while also ensuring residents' rights are protected when it comes to the internet.

The Public Service Commission regulates telecommunications carriers, natural gas utilities, major oil pipelines, railroad safety, passenger carriers (such as taxis and ride-hailing services) and household-goods movers, grain warehouses and dealers, modular home and recreational-vehicle construction, high-voltage electric transmission lines and private water company rates.

Its five-member board guides commission staff and has the final say on permitting, rate approval, disciplinary actions and other orders issued by the commission.

One of the big issues that came before the commission recently was the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. On a 3-2 vote last November, the PSC approved a "mainline alternative" route that's different than what the company building the pipeline, TransCanada, proposed.

While TransCanada accepted the decision, landowners who do not want the pipeline built at all have appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

The pipeline is one area where the candidates disagree.

Yoakum, who does not support the pipeline, said she believes the PSC could still have a further role after the court rules.

"Following the Nebraska Supreme Court decision, TransCanada may have to reapply and appear before the PSC," she said in a candidate questionnaire. "The PSC must ensure the welfare of Nebraskans, including protection of property rights, aesthetic values and economic interests."

Watermeier said Yoakum has "irresponsibly based her entire campaign" on opposing the pipeline, something he considers to be an already-decided issue.

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"Unless the (state) Supreme Court requires further deliberation, the commission's work on Keystone is finished," he wrote in his candidate questionnaire.

On other issues, there is more agreement between the two. Both candidates say improving access to rural broadband internet is important, and they both also agree that there must be a balance between protecting consumers while also not stifling innovation through overregulation.

The other PSC seat up for election Nov. 6 is in District 3, which covers Washington, Saunders and Sarpy counties, as well as western Douglas County. Candidates for that race are Democrat Mike Forsythe and Republican incumbent Tim Schram.

On the question of whether the PSC will have a further role in the Keystone XL pipeline, Forsythe, a retired business executive from Omaha, said it will depend on which way the high court rules, with a ruling in favor of the commission decision meaning the issue is settled. Schram did not comment, citing the fact that the decision is under appeal.

Schram, of Gretna, who has been on the PSC since 2006, said he is running for another term to continue to improve services for Nebraskans, including Next Generation 911 and rural broadband.

Forsythe, who is seeking political office for the first time, said he's running for the seat to "be an advocate for consumers who have been paying for services they aren't getting." He also listed improving 911 service and broadband internet access in the state among his top priorities.

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On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.


Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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