HELENA — Former Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson led late Tuesday night in the three-way Republican primary for northwestern Montana’s Public Service Commission District 5, winning with just under 50 percent of the vote.
With partial results from almost two-thirds of the precincts in the six-county district, Johnson had a 2,300-vote lead over his nearest competitor, former state Rep. Derek Skees of Whitefish.
Johnson had compiled 49.7 percent of the vote; Skees had 36.4 percent and truck driver John Campbell of Kalispell had 13.5 percent.
District 5 is the only contested race for the five-member PSC, which regulates electric, gas, telephone and water utilities in Montana, as well as transportation.
Johnson, Skees and Campbell are competing for the Republican nomination to take on Democrat Galen Hollenbaugh of Helena in the general election.
The district, which stretches from Helena to Kalispell and along the Rocky Mountain Front, includes Flathead, Lewis and Clark, Lake, Glacier, Teton and Pondera counties. Incumbent Commissioner Bill Gallagher, R-Helena, the chairman of the PSC, is not running for re-election.
Johnson, 63, was Montana’s secretary of state from 2005-2008, losing a close re-election race in 2008 to Democrat Linda McCulloch. He ran against her again in 2012, losing by six percentage points.
Johnson also ran unsuccessfully in 2010 for the Public Service Commission in District 5, losing narrowly to Gallagher in the GOP primary, and previously has run for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate in Montana.
Skees, 45, was a one-term state representative from Whitefish in the 2011 Legislature, but chose in 2012 to run for state auditor instead of for re-election to his state House seat. He lost the auditor race to incumbent Democratic Auditor Monica Lindeen by about 30,000 votes.
Skees grew up in the Flathead Valley and lived for a dozen years in Florida before moving back to Montana in 1998.
Campbell, 61, drives a truck for a construction firm in Kalispell and audits company drivers for compliance with state transportation regulations. He’s run unsuccessfully twice before for the PSC, in 1994 and 2006.