TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist responded Wednesday to critics who said his appointees to the state Public Service Commission didn't offer enough diversity by appointing two black men to the embattled utility board.
Crist named Miami state Rep. Ron Brisé, a Democrat, and Jacksonville City Council member Arthur Graham, a Republican, to replace David Klement and Benjamin "Steve'' Stevens, who were ousted from commission when the Senate failed to confirm them. The Senate's primary reasons: Stevens and Klement either lacked diversity or experience. Both Brisé and Graham need to be confirmed by the Senate.
Crist's choices serve more than to quiet complaints from Senate critics. They also offer him a chance to appeal to minority communities in two important media markets in his U.S. Senate campaign.
Graham, 46, is a popular Jacksonville Republican who enjoys the support of Republican Party Chairman John Thrasher. Graham challenged Thrasher and lost to him in a Senate seat. Brisé, 36, is a Haitian American who comes from a region that will be important to Crist if he faces U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, in the general election.
This is the second makeover Crist has made to the board that regulates the state's electric, water and sewer companies. When evidence mounted last year that the commission and its staff had become too close to the utilities it regulates, Crist named Klement and Stevens in an effort to "clean house."
In January, Crist's appointees voted unanimously to reject the rate increase requests of Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy Florida. In April, the Senate rejected Klement and Stevens' confirmation. In June, the legislatively controlled board sent Crist a list of eight nominees to pick from as replacements, all of whom have worked with utility companies.
Crist said in a statement that Graham had "a great track record of public service during the past 12 years, and as a councilman, he has already worked to protect utility consumers."
Brisé "is known for his willingness to fight for Floridians, which is exactly what the Public Service Commission should do," Crist said.
Both Graham and Brisé have some utility connections. Brisé was a strong favorite of Florida Power & Light. He said he consulted with FPL lobbyist Paul Hamilton when he considered applying for the PSC job.
Graham, an environmental consultant, is a former executive at Georgia Pacific who worked in selling waste energy. As a City Council member, he oversaw Jacksonville's city-owned municipal utility.
The position pays just over $130,000, and both men will start as soon as they are sworn in.
Crist rejected former state Sen. Curt Kiser, who is now serving as PSC general counsel; Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, who withdrew as chairman of the PSC nominating council so he could apply for the job; Mary Bane, the former executive director of the PSC who served at the agency for 30 years; Charles Ranson, an economic development consultant in Tallahassee; and Connie Murray, a utility consultant and former member of the Missouri Public Service Commission.
All but Kiser could still be chosen in the next round of applicants to go to the governor. They have applied to replace Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop, two of the governor's appointees who were rejected for reappointment last month when the PSC nominating council failed to select them for interviews.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.