HELENA — The Montana Public Service Commission's first meeting stalled Monday over the new Republican majority's attempt to pick one of their own as a chairman — leaving the panel without a leader and the GOP with a very public internal fight on its hands.
New Republican commissioner Travis Kavulla of Great Falls said he won't vote for veteran GOP commissioner Brad Molnar unless the sometimes confrontational Molnar signs a code of conduct. Molnar rejected the offer — and called Kavulla "extremely arrogant" for making such a demand.
No GOP unity
Republicans hold a 3-2 advantage in the chamber — but that majority is clearly fractured.
Molnar called Kavulla self-centered, unethical, arrogant, and at 26 years old, unqualified to be in his position. Molnar, a legislator before a commissioner, argued only he has the credentials to go in front of the GOP-controlled Legislature and lobby on behalf of the PSC.
"There is only one person on this commission with solid conservative credentials that can go forward and talk to these guys with any credibility," Molnar said.
Kavulla's opposition to Molnar gets stronger
But Kavulla said his opposition to Molnar leading the panel only increased through the course of the day after Molnar cussed him out during a break.
Molnar agreed he got "pretty testy."
But Kavulla said Molnar has a history of "freelancing rabble-rousing behavior."
Molnar's alleged ethical lapses
Kavulla pointed to traffic charges levied against Molnar last year after he backed into a car at a fast food drive-thru in Laurel and drove off without identifying himself or reporting the accident, and a ruling last year that Molnar violated state ethics law by improperly soliciting and receiving money from companies the PSC regulates.
Kavulla won't vote for Democrat
An attempt Monday to elect Democrat Gail Gutsche of Missoula as chairman also failed when Kavulla would not vote for her, saying a Republican needs to be in charge after voters handed that party the majority.
The other new Republican on the panel, Bill Gallagher of Helena, declined Kavulla's nomination of him for the post. And no one on the panel supported giving Kavulla the job.
But Gallagher appeared to be wavering on his resistance at taking the chairmanship as the day wore on.
The commission will bring up the topic again Tuesday morning, and Kavulla said he hopes Gallagher takes the post.