Editorial: Scott's terrible choice for Public Service Commission

Published October 5 2017
Updated October 5 2017

Appointing a new member of the Florida Public Service Commission should not be that difficult. You look for a candidate with at least some expertise in the field, and someone who does not have a history of snuggling up to the state's utility companies. Gov. Rick Scott failed that simple test — on both counts — by nominating former legislator Ritch Workman to the PSC.

Workman is the perfect example of the politics-as-usual shenanigans that Scott used to criticize when he was an outsider candidate for governor in 2010. There is absolutely nothing in Workman's resume that indicates he is qualified for the highly technical job of regulating utilities. He is merely a loyal Republican foot soldier who is being rewarded for past acquiescence.

It would be bad enough if this was simply a high-paying state job ($131,000 annually) with little responsibility or authority. But a PSC member is supposed to watch out for Florida residents who are at risk of being steamrolled by utility companies who routinely curry favor with politicians through large campaign donations. Guess where Workman fits in that puzzle?

During his eight years in the Florida House, Workman received campaign contributions from all the major power companies in the state. His political committee also got a sizable contribution, and Workman seemed to use those committee funds for ample dining and socializing purposes in Tallahassee.

His most high-profile excursion into energy policy does not bode well. As chairman of the House Finance and Tax Committee, Workman effectively blocked a constitutional amendment that would have allowed voters to decide whether businesses could get a property tax exemption for installing solar panels. Naturally, the utility companies were against the proposed amendment. It eventually reached the ballot two years later and was overwhelmingly approved.

After the five-member PSC denied a massive rate increase in 2010, the retribution was swift and unapologetic. The Senate refused to confirm two PSC members, forcing them out. Two other PSC members, who had applied for second terms, were simply left off the list of candidates by the nominating council later that year. The message was clearly received. Since then, the PSC has typically followed the wishes of Tallahassee's ruling class.

This is not the first questionable personnel decision Scott has made. He seems to prefer inexperienced job candidates who are loyal and now indebted to the governor for these huge career breaks. That does little for Floridians who are paying the salaries and expecting some level of competence.

It's now up to the Senate to reject this charade. The Senate has proven to be a valuable safety net for other dubious Scott appointments in recent years. Jesse Panuccio, the head of the Department of Economic Opportunity, stepped down in 2015 when it looked like support in the Senate was wavering. Surgeon General John Armstrong was forced out earlier this year when the Senate did not even hold a vote on his confirmation. The Senate should recognize that Workman has no business serving on the Public Service Commission and make it clear he will not be confirmed.

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