TALLAHASSEE — After a personal appeal by Gov. Charlie Crist, a Senate committee approved his two appointees to the Public Service Commission, but not until committee members grilled both nominees and complained about a lack of racial diversity in their choices.
The Senate Communications, Energy and Utilities Committee voted 8-1 to confirm the appointment of Benjamin "Steve" Stevens and David Klement to four-year terms on the panel that regulates the state's utilities. Only Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, voted no.
"Both gentlemen are fine gentlemen," Smith said. "Their attributes will be a positive influence on the PSC." But he voted against their confirmation, he said, because he wanted to send a message to Crist that it's not acceptable to leave blacks off the panel.
Six nominees were sent to the governor by the PSC nominating council in October. Three, including chairman Matt Carter, were African Americans. Two — Klement, former chairman of the Bradenton Herald editorial board, and Stevens, former chief accountant for the Escambia County sheriff — had no previous ties to the PSC. Both are white.
Standing at the front of the packed committee room Wednesday, Crist said they are "men of great integrity" and said the PSC does "very good work and I believe these two men are dedicated to just that."
Committee Chairman Alex Diaz de la Portilla acknowledged after the meeting that racial diversity will continue to haunt the nominees, which still must be confirmed by the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee and the full Senate.