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Tearful Senate honors late Larcenia Bullard

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 by Dara Kam

An emotional Florida Senate stood for a moment of silence to honor the late Larcenia Bullard, a long-time legislator who died Saturday at age 65.

Bullard’s son, Dwight, took her place in the Senate last year after Bullard, a Miami Democrat who served in the Legislature for nearly two decades, left office due to term limits.

A tearful Bullard encouraged his colleagues to emulate his mother, known for her sense of humor, compassion and inquisitiveness.

“She walked the halls smiling, hugging, speaking to everyone. Her place in history is set. My challenge to you is to take a piece of her spirit with you and learn to love the people,” Bullard said.

The Senate will hold a memorial service in Tallahassee on Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the chamber, followed by a reception in the Senate Democratic Office, Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith said on the floor.

“I guarantee you there will be key lime pie,” said Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. Bullard was responsible for the pie becoming the state’s state pie, and annually distributed slices of the South Florida treat to the members.

Senate Democrats unleash elections wish-list

Monday, March 4th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida Senate Democrats released a 7-point plan to fix the state’s elections, going much farther than what GOP leaders in both chambers appear to be prepared to accept.

The Democrats’ plan would not only repeal HB 1355, the 2011 law that shrank early voting from 14 to eight days, which critics say was a major factor in long lines and waits up to eight hours encountered by some voters last fall.

The Democrats’ plan would require 14 days of early voting in statewide or presidential elections, including the last Sunday before Election Day, known as “Souls to the Polls”; one early voting site for each 47,000 registered voters; more flexibility in early voting sites; and allowing voters who move to cast regular ballots instead of provisional ballots at the polls. They also want voters to be able to cast their absentee ballots in person at elections offices as soon as they receive the ballots in the mail.

The Florida House is moving a bill that would give elections supervisors flexibility to choose between eight and 14 days of early voting and expand the types of facilities they could use for early voting.

Elections supervisors want to be able to choose the number of days because some, especially those in smaller counties, say that voters wait until closer to the election to cast their ballots and it is too expensive to keep the early voting sites operating for the full two weeks.

“I can’t put a price on democracy. Having the polls open for 14 days, whatever the cost, is important for democracy,” Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said at a press conference. “If it’s 14 days in Broward, it should be 14 days in Dixie, 14 days in Flagler, 14 days in Hillsborough.”

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee meets this afternoon to discuss its proposal but is not expected to vote on the measure yet.

House Dems select new leaders, too

Monday, November 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Rep. Perry Thurston officially took over as House Democratic Leader for the next two years in a ceremony in the Old Capitol, finalizing the minority caucus’s leadership switch before tomorrow’s organizational session.

Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, welcomed 24 new state representatives to the 44-member caucus, a five-seat gain in part due to newly-drawn legislative districts.

“I like to refer to us as…the heart and soul of the legislature,” Thurston said.

Echoing President Obama’s emphasis on the middle-class, Thurston said the outnumbered Democrats will continue as “the voice of opposition” but with new-found strength since breaking the GOP supermajority stronghold in the House as well as the Senate. If Democrats hold together, they would be able to block procedures or legislation that require a two-thirds vote, including proposed constitutional amendments.

Thurston said Democrats should take a lesson from the GOP to make their numbers even stronger.

“The way the other side did it, they did it by sticking together,” he said. “We’re going to be here and we’re going to be ready to fight.”

Speaking of the November election, Thurston said that Democrats predicted that a sweeping election law (HB 1355) passed last year would create problems.

“We understood it was going to be disastrous,” Thurston said. “That disastrous vote, with people standing in line eight, nine, ten hours, we argued against that. And we’re going to continue to advocate against issues that are going to affect our state.”

Thurston and his counterpart Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are both black lawyers from Fort Lauderdale. Smith also served as the head of the House Democrats in 2005 and 2006.

Smith said the site of the ceremony, typically a brief event held on the House and Senate floors, was significant.

“We both decided to have our events here in the Old Capitol, a place that wouldn’t welcome us a few years ago. But now we’re both taking our leadership positions tonight in this building,” Smith said.

The House Dems also selected Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, as the leader pro tempore, and named other representatives to leadership positions, including Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, who is the caucus’s policy lead.

Senate Dems elect new leaders

Monday, November 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida Senate Democrats, up by two after November’s elections, elected Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale as their leader for the next two years.

And the 14 members of the Democratic caucus selected Maria Sachs of Delray Beach as Smith’s second-in-command as Senate Democratic Leader Pro Tempore.

Smith and his House counterpart, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, are the second pair of black Democratic leaders since Smith served as House caucus leader with former Sen. Les Miller of Tampa in 2005-2006. Both Thurston and Smith, who once ran against each other for a state House seat, are Fort Lauderdale lawyers. Smith’s

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and his second-in-charge, Sen. Garrett Richter along with former Senate president and now CFO Jeff Atwater attended the break with tradition. Today’s ceremony event was held in Old Capitol but generally a brief affair conducted on the chamber floors.

Facing Gaetz who sat in the front row, Smith called on the lawmakers to implement the federal health care law, something the GOP-controlled legislature has refused to do since the law was passed in 2010.

“The election’s over. It’s been debated…litigated and proscrastinated,” Smith said. “It’s time to implement Obamacare and show our citizens that Florida cares.”

Sen. Smith releases ‘Stand Your Ground’ recommendations

Monday, April 30th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Requiring individuals to be in imminent danger before they can use deadly force, giving law enforcement officials the ability to arrest people who claim they killed or injured someone in self-defense and sending all “Stand Your Ground” cases to a grand jury would improve Florida’s self-defense laws, according to recommendations made by Sen. Chris Smith today.

Smith convened his own task force to look into the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law in the wake of the national outcry over the death of Trayvon Martin two months ago. Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman claimed he shot the unarmed 17-year-old in self-defense, focusing attention of Florida’s first-in-the-nation law and subsequent other states’ laws that allow individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened.

The Fort Lauderdale Democrat released a set of suggestions crafted by a panel of lawyers, judges and law professors the day before a task force set up by Gov. Rick Scott is scheduled to hold its first meeting tomorrow.

Smith offered six unanimous recommendations and several others signed off on by a majority of the 18-member panel. Smith said he is giving the suggestions to Scott, his task force (headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, a National Rifle Association life member), and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

While most of the group wanted to repeal Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, Smith said the majority was not large enough to include doing away with the law in its recommendations.

Instead, he offered a suite of tweaks to ensure the safety of the state’s citizens, Smith, a lawyer, said.

“No reasonable person can say this is a perfect law,” Smith told reporters at a press conference this afternoon.

The other three recommendations are:
- Educate the public and law enforcement about the law and how to do use it. Smith said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement should provide a specific set of procedures to create uniformity in how the law is applied throughout hte state.

- Create a system to track self-defense claims in Florida.

- Change the name of the statute to “Use of Force in Defense of Property” instead of its current title “Use of Force in Defense of Others.”

Smith said lawmakers should convene a special session before the regular session begins in March to change the law.

Florida Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ panel to meet Thursday

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Frustrated by Gov. Rick Scott’s delay in assembling a task force to look into Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, has put together a panel that will meet Thursday to look into the first-in-the-nation law.

The Feb. 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin has intensified scrutiny of Florida’s first-in-the nation law, which allows individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened. Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman claimed he shot the unarmed 17-year-old in self-defense.

Smith, a critic of the law since it was proposed in 2005 and who voted against it while in the Florida House, said the nation’s attention on the law prompted by Martin’s death has the potential to have a devastating impact on the Sunshine State’s upcoming tourist season.

“Florida is in crisis mode. We have a big problem and it’s time for leaders to lead,” Smith, the incoming Senate Democratic Leader, told reporters at a press conference this morning.

The panel, dominated by Democrats, includes prosecutors and public defenders from South Florida, including Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout, law professors and lawyers. Area judges and Nikki Grossman, head of the Fort Lauderdale tourism bureau, will appear before the group Thursday afternoon.

Smith said he wants to make recommendations for possible changes to the law to Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and wants a special session to address the law.

Under pressure from black lawyers and public outrage over Martin’s shooting, Scott last month announced he was convening a task force after a special prosecutor he appointed to investigate the shooting completes her work. Haridopolos and Cannon have said they support the task force and want to wait for its recommendations before considering a special session. Smith twice asked Scott to speed up the task force but Scott insisted he wants to wait until the Martin investigation is finished.

But that could take more than a year, Smith complained. Smith, a black lawyer who has discussed the law on national news programs since the Feb. 26 shooting, said vacationers are expressing fears about coming to Florida because of the law.

“We will not sit around and wait for action,” Smith said. “The Florida brand is being portrayed in a negative light each and every day.”

Smith has also launched a web site – FloridaStandYourGround.org – and is eliciting public comments.

Smith’s group will take public testimony from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Fort Lauderdale library main branch and meet later that evening to decide what their next step should be, he said.

UPDATE: Lawmaker asks Scott to speed up ‘stand your ground’ task force, convene special session

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott said “it makes no sense whatsoever” to convene a special session or expedite the task force until the investigations into Trayvon Martin’s shooting death are concluded.

“The Governor has already convened a task force that will review all the facts of the case and make recommendations to him. It makes no sense whatsoever to call a special session before the FBI, FDLE and special prosecutor have completed their investigations, or before the task force has reviewed the facts, or before recommendations based on those facts have been presented to the governor,” Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said in an e-mail.

Waiting up to a year to start investigating the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law is too long, state Sen. Chris Smith said today.

Smith, a black lawyer from Fort Lauderdale and the incoming Senate Democratic Leader, is asking Gov. Rick Scott to speed up the task force the governor ordered to look into Florida’s first-in-the-nation “Stand Your Ground law” that allows individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who said he shot Trayvon in self-defense, has provoked lawmakers like Smith to demand an investigation into the use of the law.

Scott conceded to demands from black lawyers and civil rights activists’ demands for an outside prosecutor to take over the investigation into the Feb. 26 shooting. And Scott said he wants a special task force to look into the use of the law, passed in 2005.

But Scott’s given State Attorney Angela Corey of Jacksonville, the special prosecutor in the case, up to a year to complete her investigation. And the task force won’t meet until her inquiry officially ends.

That’s too long, Smith said in a statement released Tuesday. Smith wants the task force to start meeting next week and a special legislative session to start a month later.

“The questionable incidents and lives lost under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law did not begin, nor do I expect it to end, with the tragedy in Sanford,” Smith wrote in a letter hand-delivered to Scott’s office today. “While the special prosecutor sets about unraveling the facts in the case, and whether self defense was a legitimate factor, the law remains intact – with all the same components still in place for more killings and additional claims of self defense, warranted or not.”

Smith, then a Florida House member, argued against the “Castle Doctrine” proposal in 2005 before lawmakers passed it and Gov. Jeb Bush signed it into law with NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer by his side. He and other critics say the law gives vigilantes and others cover when they incite deadly confrontations. Smith said he intends to file legislation to tweak the law. But supporters say the law does not give permission to anyone to pursue and confront anyone but rather to stand their ground when they are threatened.

It’s highly unlikely the GOP-dominated legislature would revisit the law prior to the November elections, according to observers including Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R- St. Augustine, a former Republican Party of Florida chairman. The NRA pushed the law and is a powerful lobby in a crucial election year.

But Rep. Perry Thurston, a black lawyer from Plantation, said that is all the more reason why the issue needs to be addressed now.

“There can’t be a better time than now for them to take it on,” Thurston, incoming House Democratic Leader, said. “The right thing to do is address it sooner rather than delay it.”

Sen. Siplin calls on Scott to appoint special prosecutor in Trayvon Martin case

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Senate President Mike Haridopolos also says “no” to a special committee on the use of the “stand your ground” law.

“The Senate President feels that Governor Scott is currently taking all of the appropriate steps to address the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin. Additionally, the Senate President is confident that the circumstances surrounding this shooting will be closely examined by lawmakers, and if the Senate concludes that laws need to be revised they will be addressed in the future,” Haridopolos’s spokeswoman Lyndsey Cruley said in an e-mail.

State Sen. Gary Siplin and a coalition of other black lawmakers are asking Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate last month’s shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer near Orlando.

Trayvon Martin was killed last month by George Zimmerman, whom police identified as white but whose family says is Hispanic, in a gated community in Sanford on Feb. 26. Zimmerman, who has not been charged with any crime, has said he shot the high school student in self-defense after a confrontation.

The shooting, now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and local authorities, has sparked an international furor with civil rights leaders demanding Zimmerman’s arrest and a probe into selective prosecution of white-on-black crime.

Siplin, an Orlando attorney whose district neighbors Sanford, said the community is plagued by a “plantation” mentality and asked Scott to appoint a special prosecutor to quell racial tension.

“In my community today, they’re very upset. They’re very excited. They’re ready to ignite,” Siplin, a Democrat and a laywer, said at a press conference in the Capitol Wednesday afternoon.
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Senators take aim at parent trigger

Thursday, March 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Senate is poised to close out the 2012 legislative session with a fiery debate over a controversial measure that would let parents decide the fate of failing schools after opponents scored several victories with amendments to the “parent trigger” bill late Thursday evening.

The proposal, based on one pushed in California by the “Parent Revolution,” would allow parents to decide on a turnaround option for schools graded “F” for at least three years in a row if more than 50 percent of parents sign petitions.

The petition process received the most attention Thursday night from opponents, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who say the signature-gathering is rife for shenanigans as experienced in California, which became the first in the nation with its “Parent Empowerment” proposition two years ago.

The parent trigger plan is backed by GOP leaders including Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher and former Gov. Jeb Bush. Several Los Angles-based Parent Revolution lobbyists, in the Capitol for weeks advocating for the proposal, were in the public gallery during a heated debate over the bill (SB 1718) Thursday night.

Opponents include teachers unions and a coalition of Florida parent-led groups including the PTA, also watching the two-hour debate from the gallery. The measure has already flared emotions and procedural maneuvering in the Senate.

Proponents beat down several amendments on 21-19 votes – including one that would have criminalized bribing parents to sign the petitions – indicating Friday’s vote will be close. But opponents, including Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, said they believe they have enough votes to kill the measure on a 20-20 tie.

The anti-parent trigger group repeatedly tried to make changes to the signature-gathering process that would have put it on a par with petition-gathering requirements included in a controversial election law passed last year and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

One change would have made it a misdemeanor to take or offer a bribe in exchange for a signature and made it a misdemeanor to falsify signatures. But opponents of that amendment called it overreaching, eliciting outrage from Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.

“Are you kidding me? We put this in an election year last year people. We did this. But now it’s overreaching. It’s undemocratic. Are you kidding me?” Smith said. The amendment was defeated on a 21-19 vote.

But Rich scored a win with an amendment requiring that signatures be valid, undoing language in the original bill sponsored by Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers that would have allowed signatures submitted after the validation period to be accepted.

“If you don’t vote for this amendment, it means you condone fraud,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

Accusations of fraudulent signatures and coercion of parents are plaguing a parent trigger effort at a Mojave Desert school in California, where both sides are accusing each other of wrongdoing and a judge is considering open an investigation.

The Florida proposal would give parents a say in federal turnaround options for failing schools that include conversion into profit or non-profit charter schools or hiring for-profit management company to take them over, which critics say is part of an overall effort to privatize Florida’s public schools.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, failed to convince a majority to sign off on her plan requiring the charter schools to pay rent to school districts if they take over a failing school.

But she rallied enough votes to include a provision banning foreign nationals from owning or operating the charter schools.

Before the floor session wrapped up at 10 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner railed against his colleagues for objecting to giving parents more control over poor-performing schools.

“I know it’s late. And I know everybody’s emotional. But keep in mind what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about parents that are sending their children every day to an F school. Every day to an F school,” Gardiner, R-Orlando, said. “We’ve gotten off track here a little bit…These are F schools. These are just parents. Parents that want an opportunity to have their children go to a better school. We want to put a misdemeanor on them?”

Speaking against the bill, Sen. Larcenia Bullard invoked hanging chads, fraudulent petition-gathering campaigns in which dead people’s names were signed on petitions and other horribles.

“Trigger bill is double-barrel Glock,” Bullard, R-Miami, said.

Compromise gives governors ability to fire majority of JNCs but saves Crist picks

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Governors could fire most of the panelists who help pick judges — a watered-down version of a Gov. Rick Scott priority — under a bill up for a vote as early as Wednesday in the Florida Senate.

The new language is a compromise between Scott and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the bill’s sponsor, who said the system is fine as it is but agreed to make a concession to Scott.

Scott wanted to be able to fire all nine members of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions, but lawmakers balked, calling it a power grab by the governor that could tip the courts and overly-politicize judicial selection.

The panels send the governor a list of three candidates to replace retiring or resigning judges. Governors appoint five of the nine members of the JNCs; the Florida Bar appoints the other four.

Under the original version of the measure (SB 1570), Scott would have been able to fire all of Gov. Charlie Crist’s appointees to the panels. Current law only allows the JNC members to be removed from their staggered, four-year terms if they have done something wrong.

The compromise would only apply to JNC members appointed after Jan. 4, 2011, the day Scott took office, meaning Crist’s picks are safe until their terms run out.

But the new proposal gives Scott the ability to keep the panels from essentially forcing him to go with their selection by including two unqualified candidates on the list, Simmons, a lawyer, said.

Black Dems trying to change Sunday pre-election voting restriction

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Sen. Chris Smith will try to change Florida’s election law to re-open early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, one of the controversial provisions included in the state’s disputed election law passed last year.

Smith and other black lawmakers interrupts a “souls to the polls” movement instituted a decade ago when Florida began early voting. As many of 30 percent of black voters in some communities cast their ballots after attending church on Sunday, Smith, R-Fort Lauderdale, said.

“Last year’s law forbid us from doing that,” Smith told reporters, including a CNN crew, Friday morning. He said he plans to introduce an amendment that would allow but not require elections supervisors to hold the Sunday voting again on the floor this morning but has not heard from Senate GOP leaders whether they will sign off on the change to the elections bill (SB 1596).

The sweeping election reform passed last year – now being challenged in court – was aimed at reducing election fraud, Republican lawmakers insist.

But Smith said that does not explain the ban on Sunday voting.

“If fraud is going to happen, it is not suddenly going to happen on that Sunday,” he said.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a lawyer and civil rights activist, said she believes the law was intentionally designed to make it harder for blacks to vote in the general election this year to keep President Obama from being reelected after minority voters and college students helped sweep Obama into the White House four years ago. Florida is one of more than a dozen states that passed restrictive elections laws last year.

“It’s my feeling it was done deliberately, a premeditated design, to suppress the vote of African Americans in this country because it’s playing out all over the nation in every state. It was intentional,” Joyner, D-Tampa, said.

A Tallahassee federal judge this week held a hearing in a lawsuit filed against the state by voting rights groups challenging the state’s new laws regarding third-party voter registration. The new law caused the League of Women Voters to stop registering voters for the first time in decades.

Chris Smith tapped as Senate Democratic Leader

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Sen. Chris Smith, whose district includes part of Palm Beach County, will head up the Senate Democratic caucus next year as the minority party tries to make inroads in a post-redistricting era.

With a 28-12 partisan split, Smith takes the reins of a caucus from Nan Rich in a GOP-dominated chamber. But by working with moderate Republicans, Democrats have helped put the brakes on conservative issues such as House Speaker Dean Cannon’s Supreme Court overhaul and a thorny immigration bill.

“Our numbers are few but we’ve been able to build coalitions,” the Fort Lauderdale lawyer said.

In a typical election year, Smith’s priorities would be to regain the two seats lost to Republicans last year – including former Sen. Dave Aronberg’s District 27 seat won by Lizbeth Benacquisto – or capture others.

But redistricting and the presidential elections leaves much of the 2012 work up in the air, Smith said.

“It changes so much with the political landscape. I’m sure two years ago Nan didn’t know the tea party was going to be so front and center. So who knows what’s going to happen in ’12. Hopefully after the Obama reelection the tea party will realize their five minutes of fame are up, we’ll be able to get down to some serious agenda of governing the state,” he said.

Black lawmakers, stunned by Scott, want minorities to get to work for governor

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 by Dara Kam

After four years of close relations with his predecessor Charlie Crist, most black lawmakers believe they’ll have a much cooler relationship with Gov. Rick Scott.

“I’m not optimistic at all,” said Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, whose district includes a portion of Palm Beach County.

But don’t look for any sit-ins, yet.

After two months on the job, Gov. Rick Scott has yet to appoint a black or Hispanic to a high-level post.

And at a luncheon for black lawmakers at the mansion yesterday, he further alienated some of the members by suggesting he grew up like them – in public housing and with a parent who had a sixth-grade education.

He also told them he wants their help hiring minorities although he also said he insisted he believe in giving preferences to applicants based on race or ethnicity.

Today, black lawmakers set up an e-mail address to help Scott round out his hires.

Blacks and Hispanics interested in getting to work for Scott should send their applications to iamqualified@live.net, caucus leader Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, said at a press conference today. Minority business owners seeking contracts with the state should also send their information, Siplin advised.

The lawmakers want Scott to reconsider his decision to whack money for historically black private colleges – except the financially ailing Edward Waters College near Jacksonville – from his budget.

Siplin said they’ll meet again with Scott and forward the qualified applicants to his office.

Siplin said Scott was simply sharing his background with the black caucus by mentioning the public housing and parents’ lack of education.

“Quite frankly, all black folks are not poor,” Siplin said at a press conference Wednesday.

Smith, whose mother has a master’s degree, said he was shocked at Scott’s comments at yesterday’s lunch and considered walking out.

“He just assumed because he was sitting with a bunch of black people that we had all grown up in public housing,” Smith said.

Scott is “tremendously disconnected” from the realities of being black or Hispanic in Florida, Smith said.

“He doesn’t see the need for diversity or inclusion,” Smith said. “Any diversity that happens (in his administration) is going to happen by happenstance.”

Gov. Jeb Bush started off by alienating blacks when he did away with minority preferences in university admission and state contracting.

Bush’s actions prompted two black lawmakers – then-Sen. Kendrick Meek and Sen. Tony Hill, then a House member – to stage a sit-in in his office.

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.

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