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Take the PSC away from the Florida Legislature

The purge is complete. Four of the five members of our state Public Service Commission who voted against raising electric rates in January have now been canned by the Legislature.

Such a housecleaning is unprecedented in the three decades since the PSC switched from an elected body. It is proof of two things:

(1) The Florida Legislature absolutely does not care or fear what anybody thinks.

(2) The electric industry, and in particular Florida Power & Light of Miami, is able to take out any commissioner that it chooses.

To quote Michael Corleone in Godfather II: "If history has taught us anything, it's that you can kill anybody."

I even admit a certain admiration for FP&L and its alter-ego henchman, Associated Industries of Florida.

I tip my hat to them. To quote another Godfather character, Virgil Sollozzo: "My compliments."

No one will ever serve on the PSC again without this ax hanging over his or her head.

Two of the four ousted members, David Klement and Ben Stevens, were appointed at the end of last year by Gov. Charlie Crist.

They voted against $1.5 billion in electric rate hikes before the state Senate voted on their confirmations. The Senate then rejected them on the pretext they were "unqualified." (See vote list at the end of this column.)

Last week, the ax fell on two other members. Chairman Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop were applying for a second, four-year term.

Instead, a screening committee controlled by the Legislature simply left their names off the list of candidates to be interviewed. They will be gone at the end of the year.

The list of proposed replacements, by the way, includes sitting members of the Legislature — who are more "qualified," no doubt — and members of the Legislature's own staff, various insiders, and a few stalking horses.

• • •

What should we do? What can we do?

The first thing is to hold our legislators personally and individually responsible, regardless of party or position.

Some legislators, such as Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, indeed have been strong consumer advocates. Fasano is outraged at this turn of events.

Yet every member of the Legislature is part of this process, either by action, inaction — or ineffectiveness.

I don't think that you can go to Tallahassee, Republican or Democrat, and then come home to tell voters: "Credit me with the part you like but do not blame me for the part you don't like."

Beyond that, it proves once and for all that the Florida Public Service Commission needs to be separated, constitutionally, from the control of the Legislature.

There is a precedent. When then-Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature abolished the state university system, the voters rebelled and re-created a Board of Governors via a constitutional amendment.

So, we'll see.

Here are the Tampa Bay area senators who voted against either Klement or Stevens:

Charles Dean, R-Inverness; Victor Crist, R-Tampa; Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa; Ronda Storms, R-Tampa.

Here is who voted in favor of keeping both:

Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island; Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland; Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg.

Take the PSC away from the Florida Legislature 07/05/10 [Last modified: Monday, July 5, 2010 6:18pm]
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