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Senate signs off on Crist PSC picks – for now

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee gave a preliminary nod to Gov. Charlie Crist’s two latest picks for the Public Service Commission, David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens.

But, judging from the questions and comments at this morning’s hearings, the new utility regulators who helped kill two proposed rate hikes – including Florida Power & Light Co.’s requested $1.2 billion increase – have a ways to go.

“This is the first step in a very long process,” said chairman Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

The committee gave the pair a preliminary nod with an 8-1 vote. Sen. Chris Smith, a black Democrat from Ft. Lauderdale, voted against the appointees because, he said, there are no minorities on the panel.

Sens. Mike Haridopolos and Joe Negron peppered the pair with questions that mirrored the investor-owned utilities dissatisfaction with the regulators that turned down nearly $2 billion in proposed rate increases since they joined the panel this year.

Negron asked Stevens, a Pensacola bar owner and accountant, about the regulator’s statements during a January hearing in which Stevens said he would oppose a rate increase in the future.

Negron, a Republican lawyer from Stuart, wanted to know if Stevens has already made up his mind about future votes.

“I’m not predisposed. I’m open-minded but I do recognize that I’ve got technical guys here, technical guys there and they’re very smart and we have to make a decision,” Stevens said.

Haridopolos was even more pointed. He said that the PSC’s refusal to grant the rate hikes has made it harder and more expensive for the utilities to borrow money.

Haridopolos also grilled both regulators on whether they feel pressure from Crist to vote a certain way after Crist threatened to fire any commissioners who supported the rate hikes.

“We expect you to call balls and strikes. And we expect not to hear about the legislature should do this or that. We expect you to do your job. We move away from the obvious politics that are being played,” Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, said. Lawmakers want commissioners “who don’t care what the governor thinks, don’t care what the legislature thinks, and look at the long term view,” he went on.

“I will take the long-term view,” Stevens assured him.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee must vote on the appointees before a full Senate vote.

Senate committee grills PSC appointees as governor watches

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam
Gov. Charlie Crist waits to ask a state Senate panel to approve his appointees to the Public Service Commission. Michael C. Bender/The Palm Beach Post

Gov. Charlie Crist waits to ask a state Senate panel to approve his appointees to the Public Service Commission. Michael C. Bender/The Palm Beach Post

Gov. Charlie Crist cooled his heels for more than an hour as the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee grilled his two Public Service Commission appointees, Steve Stevens and David Klement, but left before the committee took a final vote.

Crist left shortly before 11 a.m. (Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp took his place) to attend a bill signing after being kept on ice by committee chairman Alex Diaz de la Portilla who took up two other bills before getting to the appointment confirmations.

The full Senate must approve the appointments once the committee signs off on them, if they do.

“Both of these men are men of great integrity,” Crist told the committee before the interrogations began. “That’s why I chose to appoint them from the pool that was given to me from you. I believe the Public Service Commission is a great panel. It can do very good work., and I know that these two men are dedicated to doing this. That’s all I wanted to say.”

But that wasn’t enough for Sen. Chris Smith, a black Democrat from Ft. Lauderdale who has raised concern in the past about the lack of diversity on the panel.


Crist vetoes leadership funds, draws GOP wrath

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a campaign finance measure pushed by GOP lawmakers that would have given powerful legislative leaders the ability to open “leadership funds” to influence elections.

Crist said in his veto letter that the accounts, done away with by lawmakers more than two decades ago, “allowed legislative leaders to solicit and accept campaign contributions during the legislative session from lobbyists and interest groups outside of the public view.”

The bill (HB 1207) also would have shed light on electioneering communications organizations, or ECOs, that advertise against candidates or issues without having to identify who they are.

Crist, who is running for U.S. Senate, liked that part of the proposal and asked lawmakers to send him back a revised version.

Democrats praised Crist’s veto while his partisan colleagues blasted it.

“If Governor Crist was serious about giving the people of Florida real election reform and providing accountability for the campaign activity of leaders in the Legislature and at the state’s political parties, he would have made this the law of our great state,” Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla said in a statement.

“Instead, the veto indicates he may be more interested in protecting the status quo and scoring points in his quest for higher office, than he is in providing the people of Florida real and meaningful election reforms,” Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said.

But Sen. Dan Gelber lauded Crist’s action.

“It was the right thing to do. Floridians are tired of the shenanigans that are increasingly defining state government. The bill was a step in the wrong direction, and I think Gov. Crist recognized so. We need to put an end to cash register politics, not enable it,” Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said in a statement. Gelber is running statewide for attorney general.

House budget chief trying to stake out “most conservative” in Congressional race

Monday, March 8th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Like many GOP candidates across the nation, including his pal former House Speaker Marco Rubio, House budget chief David Rivera is working the conservative angle in his Congressional run to replace U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

Rivera was in Palm Beach County on Friday at a Club For Growth meeting at The Breakers.

He met with U.S. Rep. Tom Price, Chairman of the “Republican Study Committee,” the self-proclaimed “Caucus of House Conservatives.” Rivera said Price, a Georgia doctor who’s in charge of recruiting Congressional candidates in the South, promised to give his campaign a hand and gave him tips on how to woo other conservatives.

Rivera’s expected opponent, Senate Republican Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla, hasn’t officially entered the race yet. Diaz-Balart is jumping from his district to his brother Lincoln’s, a safer GOP seat. U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart isn’t seeking re-election this year.

“We discussed several policy issues, including health care reform as well as the overall political landscape and outlook for Republicans in the upcoming election,” Rivera, R-Miami, said.

Rivera in race for Congress, DLP wait-and-see

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 by Dara Kam

House budget chief David Rivera is abandoning his state Senate run and jumping into the race for Congress to replace U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who’s switching seats.

Rivera, a Miami Republican close to former House Speaker Marco Rubio, made the announcement this morning.

Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla is expected to get into the race but took an uncharacteristically subtle approach to Rivera’s decision with the following statement, entitled “First Things First.”

With the beginning of the 2010 legislative session just days away and unemployment in the double-digits and a $3 billion budget gap to close, DLP says he’s going to focus on the issues at hand.

The Majority Leader’s primary job is to ensure that Republicans have the votes they need to pass leaders’ priority bills.

“As Senate Majority Leader, these issues weigh heavily on my shoulders each and every day because I know how they impact families and small businesses across our state. It would be unfair to Floridians for me to take my focus off finding real solutions to the problems we are facing and instead turn my attention to my next campaign or career opportunity. As I continue the process of deciding whether to seek higher office, I will not make my decision based on the artificial pressures of time or the actions of others. Instead, I am humbled by the grassroots supports and will continue to receive input from my friends, family and supporters and I will announce my decision when the time is right,” Diaz de la Portilla wrote.

Both of the GOP Cuban-American lawmakers from Miami are term-limited out of office this year.

Senate Majority Leader DLP: I’m going to open a can of whoop-ass on Rivera

Monday, February 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla is likely to announce his entree into the Congressional race for U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s seat very soon.

Diaz de la Portilla, who is term-limited out of office this year, is traveling to Naples this week to drum up support for his candidacy for the district that stretches across the state from Broward and Miami-Dade County to the West Coast.

Mario Diaz-Balart, who won his last election with just 53 percent of the vote, is leaving his seat to run for his brother Lincoln’s seat after Lincoln Diaz-Balart declared he won’t seek re-election in the fall.

State Rep. David Rivera, the powerful House budget chairman, is also seriously considering abandoning his state Senate race and jumping into the Congressional battle for the open District 25 seat.


Senate Majority Leader DLP considering run for Congress

Thursday, February 11th, 2010 by Dara Kam

s036Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla, term-limited out of office this year, is considering a run for Congress.

U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart said today that he will not seek re-election this year. His brother Mario, a U.S. Representative from a neighboring district, plans to run for Lincoln’s seat.

That opens up Mario Diaz-Balart’s seat, which he won with just 52 percent in his last election against Democrat Joe Garcia.

Diaz de la Portilla says he’ll be the frontrunner in that race the day he enters and he’s already calling potential contributors who he said are ready to back him.

“I’ve got a proven track record as actually making good policy not just political hack work like others have,” Diaz de la Portilla said today. “As majority leader, I’ve proven my ability to reach across the aisle and deal with many, many democrats.”

DLP’s older brother Miguel is running to replace him in the state Senate and their younger brother Renier sits on the Miami-Dade County School Board.

DLP has served in the state legislature for 16 years, starting as a state representative in 1994.

“I have had the honor and privilege of serving my community as a state
senator and I am seriously considering the opportunity to continue to
fight for the people of Florida on a national level in the United
State Congress. I will make my final decision soon after thoughtful
and deliberate consideration,” Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said in a statement.

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