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Will average folks find any friends in new PSC faces?

Having a perverted interest in this stuff, I spent Wednesday listening to the interviews of people who want the power to set your electric rates and regulate your phone company. In other words, they're applying for a seat on the Florida Public Service Commission.

This matters because the five-member PSC, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, is raging these days with historically high anti-consumer slant. Just my humble opinion, y'know.

Do not be distracted by the commission's symbolic little $15-million ruling against Tampa Electric Co. this week. Fifteen million is a grain of sand compared to the billions of dollars the PSC is wresting from Floridians.

This commission, you will recall, held 14 sham "public hearings" around the state before unanimously ramming through an an increase in local telephone rates.

Two members of the PSC in particular, Charles Davidson and Rudy Bradley, seem especially determined to help the companies they regulate. It was Davidson and Bradley, for example, who pressured the PSC's technical staff into watering down a recommendation that would have gone against a utility.

Davidson and Bradley, as well, were beneficiaries of "ex parte" information, outside of any public meeting, supplied to them by the regulated companies. The commissioners claim that as long as the utilities slip stuff to their aides, and not to them personally, they have not "received" it illegally.

Shall we go on? It was Bradley who, hilariously, was caught red-handed by our reporter Louis Hau simply parroting at a commission meeting, word for word, a position written by Verizon Communications. The company then "quoted" Bradley's words in a court filing.

The entire Public Service Commission is the subject of a pending complaint before the state Ethics Commission for hosting a schmooze-fest with other utility regulators, largely sponsored by _ guess who? _ regulated utility companies. Cheers!

Lastly, you might have seen the news that Davidson is now gallivanting around with some national group that would strip away even the pretense of state regulation, in the name of free enterprise and such.

If I were Davidson's boss, I would tell him: "Look, buster. Your job is to sit there in Tallahassee and maybe do something about local water utilities cheating their customers while brown stuff pours out of the tap."

But, as I once heard a state senator declare, I digest. Here's the news from Wednesday's doings at the Airport Marriott in Tampa:

An aide to Davidson was not one of the six names recommended to Bush from the PSC Nominating Council. Frankly, I figured there was a setup to make her a third, controlling vote along with Davidson and Bradley.

The six sent to the governor instead:

Diana Caldwell, who has 14 years' experience with utility matters: a former analyst for the Legislature, six years' service as a PSC staff attorney in telecommunications areas.

Jeanne Curtin, a Tallahassee lawyer and former aide to then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Main drawback: Her husband is a lawyer who sometimes represents TECO. Maybe she should get the job and he should find some other lawyering.

Beverlee S. DeMello, another veteran PSC staffer on the consumer side, involved in public education and consumer affairs.

Mary Elizabeth Keating, another experienced PSC staffer. The council members liked it when she told them her husband, also a PSC staffer, would resign if she got the job. (Curtins, take note!)

These first four were chosen by all nine council members. Two others were not unanimous picks. One was Lisa B. Edgar, chief financial officer of the Department of Environmental Protection. Edgar got six votes.

The other was Isilio Rafael Arriaga, a former legislator in Venezuela, an immigrant who led a social service agency for immigrants in South Florida and who served as president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. There's a question there, however _ he lasted only six months in the last job. He squeaked by Wednesday with the minimum of five votes.

Bush has to choose by Dec. 1.

Here is my bias: I liked Caldwell's impressive record and DeMello's emphasis on consumers the best. Keating looks good, Curtin fair except for the conflict, Edgar fine too and Arriaga problematic. So here's betting that Jeb ranks them in the reverse order.

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