UPDATE:Senate sends Crist’s Public Service Commissioners packingby Dara Kam | April 27th, 2010
UPDATE: Read Commissioner David Klement’s response saying “this whole process is a farce” after the jump.
The Florida Senate refused to confirm two of Gov. Charlie Crist’s utility regulators after a heated debate on the Senate floor this afternoon.
The Senate’s action means the two will not fill out the remainder of their Public Service Commission terms, unlike other gubernatorial appointees, and came in the shadow of Crist’s veto of GOP-backed SB 6, the controversial teacher merit pay plan.
Lawmakers will have 30 days to meet and provide another list of three names for each PSC slot and give them to Crist, who makes the final selection.
Opponents of Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, a Panhandle accountant and co-owner of a bar, and David Klement, a former newspaper editorial writer, said the two are not qualifed to serve on the commission that sets billions of dollars in utility rates.
Klement did not remember whether he had ever written about the PSC when questioned by a committee after serving nearly six months on the job, argued Sen. John Thrasher.
“You’d think that something as important as the Public Service Commission he would remember,” argued Thrasher, SB 6′s sponsor. “At least he would have gone back and researched…just to confirm one way or the other.
“When we sent a bill to the governor. the governor has the right to accept it or not accept it and he’s done that. And this body has the right to accept these men or not…These individuals are going to be making major decisions…complicated difficult decisions. Frankly I was underwhelmed by the answers they gave in these committees. They’re probably nice guys but I don’t believe they’re qualified to serve,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said.
Sen. Mike Fasano, a proponent of the two, argued that the utilities were unhappy that the pair had turned down a $1.2 billion rate hike requested by Florida Power & Light and a $500 million rate hike request sought by Progress Energy Florida.
“Don’t allow politics to play a role in the decision we’re going to be making right now,” said Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
“Whether you agree or disagree with the governor on different issues outside this decision today” should not sway the vote on the commissioners, Fasano argued.
Nor should the utilities, he said.
“Don’t allow the third chamber out there to play a role in our decision making today,” he said, referring to the Capitol lobbying corps.
That brought a heated response from powerful Sen. J.D. Alexander, whose businesses spend more than $2 million a year on utility bills, he said.
“Let me tell you no lobbyist anywhere in this state has anything to do with my thoughts,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said. “It has zero impact on my decision to not support this nominee. I just think we can do better than this…These guys are not the right guys.”
Commissioner David Klement showed his skill as an editorial writer pillorying the Senate’s actions in a statement.
“Today’s vote by the Florida Senate was an example of government at its worst – using vital public regulatory appointments to get back at the governor and to satisfy the wishes of the utility industry. As Sen. Mike Fasano so well put it at my last hearing on April 19, this is shameful conduct by our elected officials. It is because of such conduct that people are joining the Tea Party. And as a long-time moderate Republican, I can’t say that I blame them.
This whole process is a farce. The Senate spends enormous amounts of time and energy passing an ethics reform bill to close perceived loopholes in relations between the PSC and utilities. And then it refuses to confirm two appointees who absolutely have no previous ties to utilities, whose integrity is without question. Does that make sense? I don’t think so – not from an ethical point of view.
I came here on good faith. I uprooted my household and left a wonderful job to move to Tallahassee to take this appointment. Others who were recruited to serve as staff advisers to me and Commissioner Stevens also put jobs and careers at stake to work for us. Now we are all the victims of extreme bad faith by the Senate. I’m sure many qualified, honest professionals will think long and hard before accepting a full-time state appointment in the future.
Senate leaders Haridopolos, Thrasher, and Alexander asserted that we were not qualified, based on answers to a few questions obviously supplied by utility lobbyists at one brief interview. How can they say that when Commissioner Stevens didn’t even have a chance to say a word at the hearing which they referenced? He wasn’t called to answer a single question.
All I can say to the ratepayers of Florida is, hold on to your wallets. Because it seems clear that the Senate leadership is bent on appointing utility-friendly commissioners to the PSC. Make no mistake, this vote was not about ability, it was about money – and politics.
I want to thank the senators who supported my confirmation, especially Sens. Bennett, Detert, Fasano, and Constantine. They stood up to the special interests. But unfortunately there weren’t enough like-minded senators in that chamber. It was the Third Chamber to which Sen. Fasano referred – the lobbyists in the rotunda outside the Senate – who won this vote. And it was the people of Florida who lost.