TALLAHASSEE — As the final day of session was winding down Friday, a routine confirmation of Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar took a surprise turn as senators spent a half-hour in vigorous debate before confirming her 26-13.
Edgar, who was seeking a third term on the board that regulates utilities, was criticized by several senators for being too pro-utility, while supporters said she was well qualified and deserved another four years in the $130,000 job.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, led the opposition. As chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, he had previously voted to confirm her but decided he wanted to raise concerns about her voting record.
"She does not do an adequate job of representing the ratepayers and consumers of the state of Florida,'' he said. He said she could have been more aggressive in holding utilities accountable before charging customers for the preconstruction costs for nuclear power plants.
He referenced 2009 stories by the Times/Herald about text messages she and other PSC staff and members gave to power company executives, potentially allowing the utility to communicate directly with them outside of public view and without leaving a paper trail. And he noted her personal bankruptcy, an issue that he said did not color his opinion of her confirmation.
"What's done has been done. Give her a gold watch and say thank you for your eight years of service,'' said Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, who along with Latvala authored the bill to require utilities to go through a more rigorous review before they can collect the nuclear fees. He said it was time for Edgar to retire.
Defending Edgar, however, was a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.
"This woman has been appointed by three governors,'' Joyner said. She acknowledged the period of "ex-parte issues" relating to text messages but noted that she has "a reputation for character and integrity."
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said Edgar had gone through the proper process and should be confirmed.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, disagreed. "The truth is, Ms. Edgar's record has been consistently supporting utility companies,'' he said. "I would love to see us put someone a little more consumer friendly on this."
The confirmation allows Edgar to serve another four years on the five-member utility board.
"It is gratifying to have the support of the governor and the Legislature," Edgar said in an email to the Times/Herald. "I'm excited about getting back to work for the next four years on issues important to Florida's future and to every family."