Thursday, July 19, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Life, liberty and the PSC

If you have spent any time in this state, by now you have figured out the Florida Public Service Commission has about as much to do with providing "public service" as the Mayflower Madam did promoting celibacy.

So it should come as little surprise Gov. Rick Scott would nominate Ritch Workman, a hustling former state legislator, to a cushy $131,000-a-year job on the PSC. His only expertise in utility regulation seems to be his extraordinary talent for cashing campaign checks from the state's power companies.

There was a time, eons ago, when the PSC protected the interests of consumers from the money-grubbing interests of the state's utility companies. That was when pelts were the currency standard.

In more recent years, the PSC has operated as a rubber-stamping extension of utility interests.

And now into the vaunted halls of the PSC arrives Workman, who during his years in the Legislature is perhaps best remembered as that august statesman who led an effort to repeal a ban on dwarf-tossing, which was once all the rage in redneck saloons.

Workman explained to the Palm Beach Post his push to lift the dwarf-tossing ban was a crusade against those who "seek to destroy unnecessary burdens on the freedom of and liberties of people." Think of this as Workman's "Give me liberty or give me Velcro!" moment.

Obviously this guy is just the visionary the PSC needs to oversee the state's energy needs moving forward.

The Dwarf Vader of the Florida Legislature served from 2008 to 2016, during which time he attempted (and failed) to push a bill that would prevent judges from considering marital infidelity when determining the range of alimony payments.

But Workman's utility bona fides were solidified during his chairmanship of the House Finance and Tax Committee, when he refused to hold hearings on a bill that would have placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2014 ballot granting property tax exemptions for businesses that install solar panels. Of course, that amendment was opposed by the utilities.

Eventually, the solar panel tax exemption was overwhelmingly approved by voters.

By then Workman had moved on to other things — like breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

Like most Tallahassee public servant trollops, Workman learned the best way to a legislator's heart (and stomach) is through the creation of a sham political committee. Florida has a stupid law — no really, it does.

To demonstrate to the public they are paragons of virtue, lawmakers banned themselves from accepting so much as a cup of coffee from a special interest.

Yet many lawmakers create phony political committees, which can accept large donations from lobbyists and other groups in deep appreciation for all the fine work the Legislature does on behalf of special interests.

As the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau's Mary Ellen Klas has reported, Workman's legalized feedbag is Citizens United for Liberty and Freedom. Between his campaign organization and his dubious committee, Workman has received generous contributions from Duke Energy, Gulf Power and NextEra, which owns Florida Power & Light. And his committee also received $109,000 from the influential Florida Chamber of Commerce and from Associated Industries, which are generously funded by large utility concerns.

With all that money at his disposal, you might think Workman's high-falutin'-sounding Citizens United for Liberty and Freedom would be funding discussions about the Federalist Papers and the Marshall Plan. Tut-tut. Not quite.

Instead, Workman used committee funds to pursue the freedom and liberty to fly around the country, pick up his bar tabs and cover his dining expenses. Indeed, Workman could not find the wherewithal to cover a $18.81 check out of his own pocket at a Tallahassee watering hole. Why bother when you have the Citizens United for Freedom and Liberty committee to pay for your "fundraising" expenses.

You can't put too high a price on freedom and liberty, but $18.81 would seem to be a pretty good starting low bid.

The Florida Senate still needs to confirm Workman's PSC nomination. But it would seem to be pretty safe. Think of it as a professional courtesy among Tallahassee's freedom and liberty-loving panhandling class.

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