Senate rejects Crist’s nominees to Florida PSC

PSC Commissioner David E. Klement

The Senate on Thursday rejected two of Gov. Charlie Crist’s appointments to the Public Service Commission, widening the political divide between Crist and the Legislature’s Republican leadership.

Saying he wanted “new blood” on the commission, Crist last year nominated David E. Klement, a former Bradenton newspaper editor, and Ben A. “Steve” Stevens III. But senators have questioned the appointees’ qualifications to serve after the PSC in January rejected rate hikes requests by Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light Co.

Klement and Stevens were grilled earlier this month by the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities before they were approved. But the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee last week adjourned without a vote while Klement was being questioned.

On Tuesday, Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said the committee members had asked Klement basic questions about the PSC and that he answered them wrong. “He is not qualified to make very sophisticated economic (and) financial decisions for the state of Florida,” said Haridopolos, Senate president-elect.

Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales and chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, denied rumors that utility lobbyists were leading the effort to kill the nominations. “These guys are not the right guys,” Alexander said. The vote against Klement was 21-17 and the vote against Stevens was 23-14.

Crist said in written statement that the Legislature had sided with “powerful utility interests.” The nominees “stood up for Floridians by blocking unjustified multi-million dollar rate increases,” Crist said. “Removing them from the Public Service Commission only hurts consumers.”

PSC Commissioner Ben A. “Steve” Stevens

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said after the vote that qualifications rather than rate hike rejections were the deciding factor in his vote against the two. “Finally the Florida Legislature realizes these are really important jobs and they ought to have qualified people,” Thrasher said. Although Stevens is an accountant, Thrasher said, “Does that make him qualified? I think a lot of other things go into it.”

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the rejections were a win for the big utilities and a response to the governor’s veto of SB 6, a teacher tenure bill. “I’m specifically disappointed with some of my Republican colleagues in the Senate right now,” Fasano said. “I think it was more of a payback than anything.”

PSC Chairman Nancy Argenziano said the Legislature, which she said is swayed by campaign donations from utilities, was “disgusting” for rejecting the nominations. “If everyone is not drinking Kool-aid from 55 gallons drums, they get ticked off and have tantrums — and that’s what happened today,” she said.

Klement and Stevens will serve for another 30 days while the Joint Counsel on Public Counsel oversight develops a new list of nominees.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)