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Nancy Argenziano drops out of U.S. House race, plans to run for state House instead

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 by Dara Kam

After failing to convince a judge to let her run in a Big Bend congressional race as a Democrat, former Public Service Commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano has switched gears and instead plans to again seek a state House seat.

Argenziano, a lifelong Republican who switched to the Independent Party last year, challenged a provision in Florida law that limits candidates from changing their party affiliation to a year before the qualifying period for the general election. The time constraint used to be six months, but was included in a sweeping election law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June that is now being challenged by the Justice Department. A Tallahassee judge ruled in favor of the law last week.

Argenziano said she inadvertently switched her GOP party registration to the Independent Party shortly before the law went into effect last year instead of opting for no party affiliation, or “NPA,” which would have left her free to sign up as a Democrat.

Today, Argenziano said she’s dropping out of the race against incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, a Republican, because she won’t be able to raise the money to compete in the Panhandle race.

Instead, she’s going after the state House seat now held by Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, in her Citrus County home. Smith gained notoriety for sponsoring a controversial measure pushed by Gov. Rick Scott that would allow state agency heads to order random, suspicionless drug testing of state workers. Scott signed that into law this week and said he would immediately implement it before his office said he wouldn’t until a federal lawsuit regarding his executive order of the drug tests is settled.

“He does not have the knowledge, experience, or independence to represent them the way they deserve. He seems to be just another ‘go along’ elected official who does what he is told, rather then act on the basis of what his district needs. Most recently, his responses to questions regarding his bill mandating random drug testing of the most efficient public work force in the nation, were embarrassing,” Argenziano, who also served in the Florida Senate, said in a press release.

Argenziano said she’s going to run as an Independent “and return a sense of what it means to be a member of the legislature: to represent the people of the district in committee rooms and hallways; to represent them fairly and knowledgeably in the public square; to represent them against forces always conniving to get more than a fair share of the public resource.”

Al Lawson to make another bid for Congress

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Veteran Tallahassee legislator Al Lawson, a Democrat, intends to run for Congress again, this time with the help of the GOP.

“Big Al” said he is going to make another stab at the Congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, a tea party Republican who ousted long-time Democratic Congressman Allen Boyd in 2010.

After being termed out of the Senate in 2010, Lawson lost in a brutal primary by about 2,000 votes to Boyd, who held the seat for 16 years before losing to Southerland.

But the maps drawn by the Republican-dominated legislature, slated to be voted out of the Senate this week and sent on their way to Attorney General Pam Bondi and ultimately the courts for review, may give Lawson (and other Democrats) a leg up against the incumbent from Panama City.

Five GOP-leaning counties that helped Southerland get to Washington – Okaloosa, Walton, Dixie, Lafayette and Suwannee – will no longer be in the District 2 North Florida seat if the maps withstand Department of Justice scrutiny and expected legal challenges.

Lawson said one of the reasons he’s running again is because he didn’t like what Southerland said after Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot last summer. Southerland suggested his $174,000-a-year Congressional salary wasn’t worth the safety risks and the time away from his family and funeral home business.

“Throughout my political career, I’ve always fought hard for workers, for economic development and jobs for this district. And this Southerland complained about his $174,000 salary that was taking away from his business,” Lawson, who served in the Florida House and Senate for nearly three decades, said in a telephone interview. Lawson said he intends to formally file to run for the seat next week.

“He seems to be more concerned about the tea party than concerned about his distict where you have high unemployment, and people need somebody to fight for them in Congress. I have a 28-year history of doing that and it’s something the people need,” Lawson said. “I just need to retire him. And let him go back to the funeral home business.”

Lawson could face another veteran state lawmaker in what may be a crowded primary. Nancy Argenziano, a former Republican who switched to become an independent, wants to run as a Democrat for the seat. But she can’t because of a provision included in an election law (controversial for other reasons) approved by lawmakers last year and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in June. That provision bars candidates from switching parties one year before the qualifying period for the general election begins, meaning the candidate must be registered in the party for nearly 18 months before the 2012 November election. Argenziano, who served in both the state House and Senate and also as the chairwoman of the Florida Public Service Commission, is challenging that part of the election law in court.

State Rep. Leonard Bembry, a Greenville Democrat and Boyd look-alike, also intends to run for the seat.

Argenziano sues state over election law

Friday, December 9th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Nancy Argenziano, a lifelong Republican and former state lawmaker who also served as chairwoman of the Public Service Commission, has sued the state over a sweeping election law now being challenged in court for different reasons.

Argenziano wants to run as a Democrat against incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland in a Panhandle district that includes Tallahassee, where Argenziano lives.

But she can’t because of a provision included in the election law approved by lawmakers earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in June. That provision bars candidates from switching parties one year before the qualifying period for the general election begins, meaning the candidate must be registered in the party for nearly 18 months before the 2012 November election. The old law precluded candidates from switching parties six months before the general election.

The provision is unconstitutional, Argenziano’s lawyer Janet Ferris – a former Tallahassee judge – argued in a lawsuit filed in Leon County, because the Florida Constitution “prohibits any law from imposing unnecessary and unreasonable disqualifications on those who wish to seek office.

Argenziano switched her GOP party registration to the Independent Party shortly before the law went into effect this summer, she said. But if she had opted to register with no party affiliation, or “NPA,” she would not be in the fix she is in now.

Requiring a candidate to declare their party affiliation nearly 18 months before the election is “preposterous,” the fiery Argenziano told reporters at a press conference this morning.

“It is tantamount to requiring party declaration before even the full extent of the incompetence and deceit of the changing candidate slate is revealed and works to deprive a person of the ability to confront that deceit and incompetence at the most fundamental level, which is to oppose them on the ballot,” Argenziano said.

Southerland, a Republican, ousted long-time U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd, a Democrat, in November 2010.

Nancy Argenziano to run as Democrat against incumbent Southerland

Monday, August 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Nancy Argenziano, a former chairwoman of the Public Service Commission and lifelong Republican, is running against incumbent freshman U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland – as a Democrat. Southerland, a Panama City Republican, ousted Congressional veteran Allen Boyd, a Democrat, from his North Florida District 2 seat in November.

Argenziano, who earned a reputation as a maverick during her tenure in both the state House and Senate, will formally enter the race for the North Florida Congressional seat within two weeks, Argenziano said.

Argenziano sent a letter to supporters declaring her intention to run as a Democrat, saying she needs at least $200,000 to be taken seriously as a candidate and to get the Democratic National Congressional Committee to throw some money her way.

Argenziano has been an outspoken critic of GOP leaders as a legislator and as a utility regulator, appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist, and unleashed her sharp tongue in her message to supporters, explaining why she is switching parties. Crist also abandoned the GOP in a failing bid as an independent against now-U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

“Current Republican leaders have neither patience with nor allowance for honest elected officials, and they demand that members of the various legislatures – who, after all, have sworn to uphold the Constitution – instead just follow the hijacked party line and shut up,” Argenziano wrote. “While I am of the opinion that Americans are not ready to vote in a third party, greater parity of the two parties in state legislatures would allow for far better public policy. When one party – or one intransigent, ideological arm of a party – controls governmental and political policy, as in Florida, it breeds a dangerous hubris and promotes the worst kind of extremism and acceptance of those whose public service is merely a well paid hobby.”

Argenziano quits utility reg panel, endorses Sink

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Nancy Argenziano resigned from the Florida Public Service Commission to endorse Alex Sink for governor, she told reporters this afternoon.

The life-long Republican and former lawmaker said today would be her final day on the utility regulatory panel, where she was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist nearly four years ago.

A fired-up Argenziano, an outspoken critic of GOP leaders of the Florida Legislature, said she was quitting so she could speak out in favor of Sink, a Democrat.

“I cannot imagine a more noxious mix of government than that which the legislative leaders and Rick Scott concoction would produce,” Argenziano said. “I’m terrified if Rick Scott became governor…With Alex Sink, I do believe she has integrity.

Argenziano was passed over for reappointment by a panel of lawmakers that give a list of candidates to the governor for appointment. Her term would have ended in three months.

Senate passes Public Service ethics bill

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Senate quietly approved a measure designed to clean up the Public Service Commission with a 39-1 vote this afternoon.

The bill (SB 1034) would make public all communications between the utilities the panel regulates and the commissioners or their advisory staff.

It would also bar commissioners or high-level staff from going to work or lobbying for the utilities for four years after they leave the PSC, double the current two-year limitation, aimed at stopping the “revolving door” between the commission and the utilities they make billion-dollar decisions about.

The bill will make certain that former commissioners and staff “will not be able to continue what they’ve done in the past and for a change our consumers will be represented,” the bill’s sponsor Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, argued.

The changes come from a 1992 grand jury report that lawmakers largely ignored designed to keep regulators and utility representatives at arm’s length.

This year’s proposal came about in the wake of reports that PSC staff and a Florida Power & Light Co. lawyer were swapping secret BlackBerry messages. Other details about questionable relationships between FPL and the commission were revealed during Juno Beach-based FPL’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike hearing.

On the opening day of FPL’s rate increase hearing last year, Commissioner Nathan Skop revealed that the PSC’s lobbyist, Ryder Rudd, had attended a Kentucky Derby party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL Vice President Ed Tancer. Rudd later quit.

Since then, the agency has struggled through investigations into BlackBerry messages exchanged between the PSC and an FPL attorney, a myriad of ethics complaints and allegations of interference from political leaders, including Gov. Charlie Crist, who threatened to not reappoint any commissioners who voted in favor of the rate hike.

The bill would also require that the commissioners behave more like judges by applying the canons of judicial conduct, including refraining from inappropriate political activity and avoiding the appearance of impropriety.

Public Service Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano is backing the proposed changes.

Another $150 million lopped off FPL’s $1.2 billion rate hike request

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Utility regulators just chopped off another $150 million from Florida Power & Light’s $1.2 billion rate hike request. So far, they’ve cut the staff’s recommendation on the utility’s rate request – $357 million – by more than half, leaving less than $160 million on the table.

The Public Service Commission split on the latest vote – how much customers should pay to let FPL save money in the event of a storm. They’ve already got $215 million in reserve in case of a catastrophic storm. And they’re collecting almost $2.60 a month from customers to pay for past storm damages.

FPL had asked for $150 million a year for five years for a total of about $650 million. PSC staff said they should get $50 million a year.

Commissioner David Klement, newly appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist, made a motion to reduce that to $25 million a year. That motion failed. Chairman Nancy Argenziano and Commissioners Nathan Skop and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens (also new to the panel) voted to grant the utility nothing.

“I’ve heard the voices of the consumers saying right now’s not the time to charge us for an unknown storm in the future. We can’t handle it right now. Current customers are still paying for the past storms. At a time when people can hardly pay their mortgages, I don’t think they can handle anymore. At this moment, my main concern…is that we alleviate what we can,” Argenziano said. “To say that we’re going to charge today for storms we don’t know are going to come to me is one I can take off the table right now and not have on the ratepayer.”

New utility reg chairwoman says big changes not likely

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano began her first day as head of the utility regulatory panel by suggesting that her colleagues conduct themselves like judges.

Argenziano, a former state legislator, took over as chairwoman this morning and Panhandle accountant Benjamin “Steve” Stevens was sworn in as the newest commissioner as the panel prepares to vote on nearly $2 billion in power rate hikes next week.

Argenziano kicked off this morning’s meeting by handing out the code of judicial conduct to the other four members of the PSC in an effort to place more distance between the commissioners and their staff and the utilities they oversee.

She wants all communications placed in writing and entered into the public record in cases pending before the PSC.

The quasi-judicial panel is considering imposing changes to its own ethical standards while awaiting possible legislative changes to how the commission operates regarding communications between the utilities and the PSC.

But Argenziano, a Republican from Dunedin appointed to the PSC by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007, wants broader changes in the way potential commissioners are selected by a committee comprised largely of legislators. Those suggestions are then given to the governor, who makes the final decision.

Argenziano objects to the legislature’s influence on the selections because, she says, House and Senate leaders are dependent on campaign contributions from the utilities.

She wants the panel to become part of the court system and have commissioners appointed by either the Cabinet or the attorney general or a smaller group that would be more accountable to consumers, she said.

But lawmakers are unlikely to cede their power over the PSC, Argenziano admitted.

(more…)

Revamped utility reg panel back at work today

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 by Dara Kam

A consumer-friendly former legislator with a reputation for bucking the system takes over as head of the panel that sets billions of dollars in utility rates, including a pending $1.2 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike request, today.

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano will become chairwoman of the agency that will now bear the brand of Gov. Charlie Crist who selected four of the five members of the panel and reappointed one previously picked by his predecessor Jeb Bush.

Also new to the regulatory panel: Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, a Panhandle accountant and co-owner of a bar catering to the college crowd.
Stevens, Crist’s latest appointment, joins the PSC just a week before the regulators are set to make two important votes: the FPL rate increase and a $500 million Progress Energy Florida rate hike request.

Commissioner David Klement, a retired newspaperman who spent more than three decades as an editorial writer, joined the panel late in October.

Argenziano, a former legislator with a reputation as a feisty maverick unafraid of defying the status quo, has vowed to clean up the embattled agency blackened by allegations of improper communications and relationships between agency staff and representatives of the utilities they oversee.

(more…)

Argenziano new head of utility reg panel

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano

The Florida Public Service Commission unanimously elected Nancy Argenziano as chairwoman today for a two-year term beginning Jan. 2, 2010.

Argenziano will be the head of the PSC when the panel votes on Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike shortly after she takes over.

The feisty Argenziano served in the legislature for more than a decade before Gov. Charlie Crist appointed her to the PSC in 2007.

“I appreciate the challenge and realize that the Chairmanship is purely an administrative charge. All PSC Commissioners are equal and independent appointees. Now, let’s get to work on the important decisions that lie ahead,” Argenziano said.

(more…)

PSC won’t investigate Commish Argenziano

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Public Service Commission’s inspector general won’t investigate Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, turning down a request from a business group backing Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.3 billion rate hike.

PSC Inspector General Steven Stolting told Associated Industries of Florida lawyer Tamela Perdue in a letter that he won’t investigate allegations of impropriety and impartiality revealed in BlackBerry PIN messages exchanged between Argenziano and former aide Larry Harris.

AIF should file an ethics complaint instead, Stolting advised.

Stolting’s office is restricted to “conduct oversight activities within the Commission,” he wrote.

Argenziano called AIF’s accusations “baseless” and “stupid.”

Read here about FPL’s connection to AIF’s press release demanding the investigation.

$1.3 billion FPL rate hike hearing goes on and on and on…

Monday, October 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Utility regulators have added an extra day to hear testimony in the $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike case.

The base rate case is already into overtime and is running long past the original two weeks scheduled for early August, including several back-to-back 12-plus hour days of testimony.

The Public Service Commission was slated to finish the hearings on Wednesday and Thursday but this morning added Friday to the schedule.

Only four commissioners remain on the regulatory panel – former Commissioner Katrina McMurrian walked off the $133,000 a year job recently after Gov. Charlie Crist effectively fired her and Chairman Matthew Carter and appointed two new members who will take over on Jan. 1.

The Juno Beach-based utility’s rate case and Progress Energy Florida’s proposed $500 million base rate increase is shining an unwelcome spotlight on the agency that heretofore operated with little public interest.
(more…)

Utility reg chairman Carter: “Just leave us alone.”

Friday, October 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter wants everyone to leave him and his colleagues alone so they can get on with their jobs and has no plans to ask for an internal investigation into charges of possible conflicts of interest or bias against Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, he said today.

“Right now I plan on getting through this hearing,” Carter told reporters during a break in a nuclear cost recovery meeting now ongoing.

The panel is scheduled to vote later today on requests from Florida Power & Light Co. to charge customers $63 million for what the utility’s expenses on nuclear power plant construction and a similar $236 million request from Progress Energy Florida.

Yesterday, Associated Industries of Florida President Barney Bishop asked that PSC’s inspector general look into thousands of BlackBerry messages exchanged between Argenziano and her aide Larry Williams over the past two years. Bishop accused Argenziano of potentially breaking laws barring ex parte communications between regulators and the utilities and of breaking her oath of office in unflattering comments aimed at her colleagues.

Read about FPL’s link with AIF’s press release here.

AIF’s demand is yet another distraction for the panel also poised to vote on about $2 billion in base rate increases – $1.3 billion sought by FPL and $500 million by Progress.

Ten days ago, the panel turned down a $1.6 billion request from FPL to build a natural gas pipeline through 14 counties.

State Attorney Willie Meggs said recently that his investigators have found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing at the agency. And several internal investigations resulted in similar findings.
(more…)

FPL linked to biz group’s demand for investigation of utility regulator Argenziano

Friday, October 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Associated Industries of Florida sent a press release demanding an investigation of Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano to Florida Power & Light Co. for review yesterday, officials for both groups said.

A version of the release posted on The Sayfie Review shows the author of the release as “FPL_User” last saved by “Lisa Garcia” and the company as “Florida Power & Light.”

Lisa Garcia works for Ron Sachs Communications, the Tallahassee-based PR agency handling media for AIF on the issue.

AIF has joined FPL in support of its requested $1.3 billion base rate hike.

FPL is a member of the business backed association that refuses to reveal its membership or how much they pay to belong to the group.

The latest bit of drama in the FPL/Argenziano/PSC serial unfolds as the regulatory panel is scheduled to vote on the Juno Beach-based utility proposed $200 million rate increase to cover the costs of nuclear plants not yet built.

Sachs executive Alia Faraj, a former spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush, said that her shop crafted the press release and gave it to FPL.
(more…)

Argenziano: AIF accusations “baseless” and “stupid”

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano dismissed a business-backed group’s demand for an investigation into her BlackBerry messages with her former aide as ridiculous and an attempt to intimidate her.

“It’s highly suspicious and rather stinky at this point,” Argenziano said.

Associated Industries of Florida President Barney Bishop today asked for a PSC inspector general investigation into thousands of messages exchanged between Argenziano and Larry Williams, a former aide whom Argenziano fired for giving his secret BlackBerry personal identification number to a Florida Power & Light Co. attorney.

(more…)

Lopez-Cantera joins AIF demand for utility reg investigation

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera joined the call for an internal investigation into BlackBerry messages sent by utility regulators.

Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, serves on the Public Service Commission Nominating Council that selects who gets to serve on the regulatory panel. The governor makes the final picks.

“The PIN messages sent and received by Commissioner Nancy Argenziano and released by the PSC, coupled with their discussion of private emails so far unreleased and sent to non-public accounts in an attempt to evade public scrutiny, raise serious questions about Commissioner Argenziano’s impartiality and her ability to give a fair hearing to those appearing before her,” Lopez-Cantera wrote in a statement distributed to the media.

Earlier today, Associated Industries of Florida President Barney Bishop demanded the PSC’s inspector general check out Commissioner Nancy Argenziano’s BlackBerry PIN messages.

Bishop said Argenziano may have broken rules restricting communications between the regulators and the utilities and may have acted in a manner unbecoming a commissioner, a violation of her oath of office.

It’s no surprise that Lopez-Cantera has jumped on the Argeziano attack wagon.
(more…)

AIF takes attack against utility regulator to the Internet

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

AIF President Barney Bishop

AIF President Barney Bishop

Associated Industries of Florida president Barney Bishop took media matters into his own hands this morning after being fed up with a lack of attention to a utility regulator’s BlackBerry messages.

Bishop is demanding that the Public Service Commission inspector general conduct an investigation into messages exchanged by Commissioner Nancy Argenziano and her former aide Larry Williams that he said raises questions about her impartiality on an impending $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike request.

AIF is supporting FPL, one of its business association members, in the rate case.

Bishop has put the thousands of messages – made available through public records requests by news agencies – on AIF’s website, but singled out Argenziano’s in a press conference this morning.

(more…)

State attorney finds nothing criminal at utility reg panel…yet

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State Attorney Willie Meggs says there’s no evidence of criminal wrongdoing at the Public Service Commission but he hasn’t ended his investigation of possible violations of Florida’s broad Sunshine Laws.

His investigators “are about running out of things to do and people to talk to but at this point we have not found anything criminal,” Meggs said.

But he hasn’t yet shut down the investigation, the prosecutor said.

(more…)

Crist may lack authority to halt FPL rate case

Friday, October 2nd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission lawyers are checking into whether Gov. Charlie Crist has any standing in asking for a temporary halt to two utility rate cases until his two new regulatory commissioners take over on Jan. 1.

Crist this morning asked Chairman Matthew Carter, one of the two current commissioners whom Crist passed over for reappointment, to delay the Florida Power & Light Co. $1.3 billion rate hike hearing and the Progress Energy Florida $500 million request until David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens take over.

Carter ordered his legal staff to figure out how to handle the governor’s request because he is not one of the intervenors in the case and may have no legal standing to ask for a delay.

(more…)

What they’re saying about Crist utility reg panel sweep

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Consumer groups applauded Gov. Charlie Crist’s choice of two outsiders to serve on the Public Service Commission shifting the balance away from a utility-friendly panel for the first time in decades.

Crist ousted PSC Chairman Matthew Carter and Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, both appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush and whose terms end Dec. 31, as the panel gets ready to vote on two pending utility rate increases, including a proposed $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike.

Instead, Crist tapped David Klement, who spent more than three decades as a newspaperman and now serves as director of the Institute for Public Policy and Leadership at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus, and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, an accountant and chief financial officer for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.

The regulatory agency has come under fire for allegations of coziness with the industries it oversees as the FPL and Progress Energy Florida rate hearings are underway. Thus far, one PSC staffers has been fired, two more resigned and two have been placed on administrative leave in the aftermath of reports that some of the aides swapped secret BlackBerry messages with an FPL lawyer.

Here’s what consumer advocates had to say about Crist’s selections.

(more…)

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