Former state Rep. Rudy Bradley of St. Petersburg won Senate confirmation Thursday to serve on the Public Service Commission after a brief but tense debate marked by racial overtones.
The 35-4 Senate vote gives Bradley one of five seats on the powerful PSC, which regulates electricity and phone rates statewide. The four-year term pays $120,000 a year.
Gov. Jeb Bush chooses PSC members from a group of at least three finalists recommended by a nominating board.
Bradley, 55, served six years in the House as a Democrat and was vice chairman of the Utilities and Telecommunications Committee. But he angered many Democrats when he ran as a Republican for a Senate seat in 2000, losing to Les Miller, a Tampa Democrat. Bush helped Bradley get a job in the state Department of Education.
Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz led the charge against Bradley. The Broward Democrat serves on the Senate Regulated Industries Committee that interviewed Bradley earlier in the session, and she said it was obvious he had not done his homework. She flatly said Bradley "was not qualified."
"It was evident that he did not know what he should know," Wasserman Schultz said. "If we confirm him, we would be doing a disservice to the people of Florida."
Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, an African-American, said: "Don't stand up here before the state of Florida and say an African-American male is not qualified. . . . A master's degree, but he's not qualified. What else do you want him to do? Want him to go back to school to get qualified?"
Miller, too, rose to Bradley's defense, saying he "does his homework and studies hard. He might be an asset to the PSC."
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, said Bradley "has the common touch to connect to working people." Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, one of the Senate's most knowledgeable members on utility issues, said: "I know the man. He is a fine, caring, conscientious, hard-working individual."
Wasserman Schultz was one of four Democrats who voted against Bradley. The others were Buddy Dyer of Orlando, Ron Klein of Delray Beach and Kendrick Meek of Miami.