Florida Democratic Senate hopeful Kendrick Meek offers another trooper-related tale from Bill Clinton’s Arkansas governor days….
Read about it in this week’s Politics column.
Plus, find out which current candidate used to date Jeff Koons and which local elected official has been mentioned as a potential lieutenant governor candidate.
Check out this picture of the Palm Beach County commission from 2003. Three commissioners (Tony Masilotti, front right; Warren Newell, front left; Mary McCarty, back left) have gone to federal prison on corruption charges.A fourth, Jeff Koons (back row, second from left) was booked into the Palm Beach County jail early this morning and is expected to appear before a judge today on charges of extortion, perjury and violating Florida’s open-meetings law.
Click here to see the sheriff’s booking information on Koons, who checked into the Gun Club Road jail at 3:41 a.m.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons asked utility regulators to approve Florida Power & Light Co.’s $1.2 billion rate hike, saying the utility is the county’s largest employer and needed the extra money to help the state go green.
The Public Service Commission yesterday instead slashed FPL’s rate hike to just $75 million and limited the amount of profit the Juno Beach-based utility can earn to 10 percent, far less than the 12.5 percent return on equity it sought.
“While no one – especially in the current economy – looks forward to higher electric bills, FPL’s proposed rate increase is necessary in order to make a greater investment in green technology, energy sources that will ultimately protect the consumer from uncertainties and bill fluctuations in the future,” Koons wrote in a letter to commissioners on Jan. 5 expressing his personal opinion on the rate case.
FPL President Armando Olivera said the company will immediately halt modernization projects at its Riviera Beach and Cape Canaveral power plants and cease moving forward with most of its efforts to build two new nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point facility.
He said the projects could have brought 20,000 new jobs to Florida over the next five years.
A heated exchange took place in the Senate Democratic Caucus meeting this afternoon over the sweeping rail proposal that is the topic of the special session now underway.
Conspicuously absent from the meeting were representatives of the state Department of Transportation, responsible for a controversial $641 million deal with transportation giant CSX Inc.
A provision included in the bill that would allow state transportation officials to unlink union jobs from railroads has put the measure in jeopardy in the Senate.
A frustrated Sen. Tony Hill, a former longshoreman and union organizer, demanded that fellow Democrat Jeremy Ring, the bill’s Senate sponsor, fix the measure to ensure that union workers won’t lose their jobs.
“Get it right. Get it right. It’s your bill. Get it right,” Hill, D-Jacksonville, told Ring.
The bill is either all about jobs or has nothing to do with jobs, depending on who is talking and what day of the week it is.
About 138 Tri-Rail workers would get pink slips if the bill passes, union representatives say.
That’s not true, countered South Florida Regional Transportation Authority Chairman Jeff Koons, also a Palm Beach County Commissioner.
He claimed the only way Tri-Rail workers will be out of a job is if the controversial bill does not pass because the commuter rail system won’t get the extra $15 million a year included in the measure. Without that, he said, Tri-Rail won’t be able to run its full schedule.
“We are holding our nose. We are supporting this agreement,” Koons told the packed conference room.
Burdick raised another $15,004 between July 1 and Sept. 30, bringing her total to $44,222 so far. Brandenburg raised $600 in the quarter and has collected $2,350 overall.
Burdick’s haul included a $250 check from Koons.
Koons, who’s maintained a neutral posture in the race, was asked if his contribution constituted an endorsement of Burdick.
“Not per se,” Koons answered. But, he added, “Paulette does have the skill sets to be a good county commissioner.”
A majority of Palm Beach County school board members likes the idea of bringing the $2.7 billion school district under the eye of a proposed county ethics watchdog — but not if county commissioners have the final say on filling the position.
After watching five local elected officials go to prison on federal corruption charges since 2006, county commissioners this summer endorsed the concept of an independent inspector general’s office with subpoena power to monitor public officials and government contracts.
But who would hire and fire and approve the budget of the inspector general remains an open question.
How independent should Palm Beach County’s independent ethics watchdog be?That question is complicating efforts to win 2010 voter approval for an inspector general’s office to monitor local government after a three-year shame spiral in which County Commissioners Tony Masilotti, Warren Newell and Mary McCarty and West Palm Beach Commishes Ray Liberti and Jim Exline went to prison for corruption. There’s broad support for an inspector general’s office with subpoena powers to keep an eye on local public officials, lobbyists and contractors.
But then the consensus breaks down.
A consortium of business and civic leaders says the inspector should be hired and fired and have its budget set by an independent ethics commission.County officials propose the inspector be chosen by an outside panel but approved by a commission vote, financed through the county budget process and fired if five of seven commissioners agree.
Commissioners haven’t endorsed anything yet. They can wait until June to agree on a plan and put it on the November 2010 ballot.The ethics consortium has less time. If it can’t persuade commissioners to endorse its view of the inspector general, the group has vowed to gather 58,200 signatures to put its version on the 2010 ballot. To succeed, such a petition drive should launch in November, said Marty Rogol of Leadership Palm Beach County and Mike Jones of the Economic Council. Keeping the inspector general independent of the county commission is a key to ethics reform, Rogol and Jones argue.
Commission Chairman Jeff Koons disagrees. He says commissioners are more visible and accountable than an appointed ethics panel.
“We’re public elected officials…Everything we do is in the public,” Koons said. “We’re held responsible and we meet every couple weeks and people can come yell at us.”If the sides can’t agree, it’s possible voters could see rival inspector-general ballot questions.
“Do we want dueling proposals before voters? Absolutely not,” said Jones. “It’s too early to say there’s no room for compromise.”
* * *Palm Beach Kennel Club Prez Pat Rooney Jr. says he needs more time to decide whether to launch a GOP campaign for the open state House District 83 seat. Rooney’s brother is U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta.
A third Rooney brother could also run in 2010: attorney and Iraq war vet Brian Rooney, who lives in Michigan and is eyeing a challenge of Democratic Rep. Mark Schauer.
* * *Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Boca Raton resident Dion DiMucci performed three numbers to big applause Wednesday at a powwow of about 300 Republicans featuring congressional hopeful Allen West. When Dion covered Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues, however, the lyric expressing multilateralist sentiment (“Gonna take my problem to the United Nations”) drew audible boos and groans.
That’s potentially good news for a local GOP that hasn’t been able to recruit a District 6 candidate. The bad news: Priore says he’ll cross party lines and support Santamaria if the incumbent runs again.Santamaria says he’ll announce in January or February whether he’s running. Meanwhile, attorney Elissa Pearl has opened a Democratic campaign in District 6.
Pearl and Santamaria recently met for the first time.
“Our philosophies are similar and it appears that we care about the same things,” said Pearl after the hourlong sit-down in the commissioner’s office.
Santamaria, 72, called the 37-year-old Pearl “a good person” with “a young person’s idealism. We need people like that.” But Santamaria said a commissioner’s job is tough and complicated.“My question is, (for) Elissa Pearl or anybody else, do they really have the background, the experience, the education, the training, the psychological framework to handle all of these variables on a day-to-day basis?” Santamaria said. “My first impression is, she’ll have a lot to learn.”
Pearl lives just outside District 6, which irks potential GOP candidate Priore. If Santamaria doesn’t run, Priore said, he’d consider the race because “I wouldn’t want to leave the door open to someone that doesn’t live in our area.”
* * *Pleased with the grass-roots volunteer organization for her 2010 Democratic campaign for county commission, school board member Paulette Burdick has put paid consultants Eric Johnson and Neil Schiller on hold — at least temporarily. Burdick is running against state Rep. Mary Brandenburg, D-West Palm Beach, in a Dem primary to succeed term-limited Commish Jeff Koons. Burdick paid $1,000 in June for the consulting expertise of Johnson, who’s also chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, and who works with Schiller on several local races.
“My idea was she didn’t need them,” said Palm Beach Democratic Club President Elna Laun, an unpaid Burdick backer and adviser. “I think I was one of many” offering that advice, Laun said.
* * *Both GOP District 27 state Senate candidates — Wellington Councilwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto and former state Rep. Sharon Merchant — are from Palm Beach County, but about 60 percent of the GOP primary voters are in Lee County.
In the scramble for Lee County support, Benacquisto will be in Fort Myers Friday for a fund-raiser whose hosts include state Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann, school board member Elinor Scricca and longtime Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson.
“A 15 percent increase in the tax rate is unconscionable in the kind of economy we’re in right now,” said state Rep. Mary Brandenburg, D-West Palm Beach, who’s running next year for the District 2 commission seat of term-limited Jeff Koons.
Former Democratic state Sen. Skip Campbell this afternoon said he’s considering a run for state Senate now that Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, has opened a campaign for state chief financial officer. Campbell filed for Senate against Atwater in 2008 but bowed out because of a reaction to hip surgery that he said is “all gone” now.
Three Republicans are likely to run for Atwater’s Palm Beach-Broward Senate seat. Delray Beach businessman Nick Loeb confirmed today that he’ll jump from a state House race into the Senate contest.
Look for state Rep. Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, to launch a Senate campaign by Wednesday. State Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, has said she probably would run for the Senate seat if Atwater left.
Some Dems have mentioned term-limited Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons as a potential Senate candidate, but Koons so far has said he’s not interested.
Republicans held a 39-to-36 percent registration edge in Senate District 25 last fall. About 64 percent of voters live in Palm Beach County and 36 percent in Broward County.
LAKE WORTH — Former mayor Tom Ramiccio is planning to run for mayor again in November, when he expects current mayor Jeff Clemens to step down to pursue a 2010 campaign for state House to replace term-limited state Rep. Mary Brandenburg, D-West Palm Beach (who’s running for the county commission seat of term-limited Jeff Koons).
Clemens has shown interest in running for Brandenburg’s District 89 seat, but hasn’t made an official announcement. Pete Brandenburg, husband of the state House incumbent, has already launched a campaign. Clemens and Pete Brandenburg are both Democrats.
Burdick is a Democrat whose current term on the nonpartisan school board runs through 2012.
Term-limited state Rep. Mary Brandenburg, D-West Palm Beach, has also opened a campaign for Koons’ District 2 commission seat.