Crist says he's 'monitoring' what's happening at PSC
The Miami Herald caught up with Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida Keys today and asked him to opine about the Public Service Commission.
Q: Are you satisfied that the Public Service Commission is sufficiently independent from Florida Power & Light to be an unbiased regulator?
Crist: "I think we always need to be sure we're monitoring the situation and the relationships. And it's incredibly important to me that the commission be independent and look out for the interest of the public, after all they are called the Public Service Commission. So I think that steps Commissioner Argenziano has done are appropriate. She felt, I guess there were some inappropriate contact or communication being made. She not only is a friend but a public servant who I have enormous respect for."
Q: Have you spoken to Commissioner Carter or any other commissioners about the recent allegations about improper relationships with FPL executives?
"No, I have not. And really that would be the role more so for an inspector general, I think. I don't know there's any proof it raises to that level as yet. As a formal attorney general, you always try to be cautious when moving forward as to when you read something or hear something you act on. I think evidence is always important to be what determines what you do."
-- Cammy Clark
Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 05:43:59 PM on September 8, 2009
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Ryder Rudd, the Public Service Commission lobbyist who attended a Kentucky Derby party at the home of a Florida Power & Light executive resigned Tuesday and two more PSC commission aides were placed on administrative leave as the controversy surrounding the state's utility regulators continued to churn.
Rudd joins Larry Harris, the aide to PSC Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, in submitting a resignation amid growling allegations about potentially improper communcations between agency staff and the utilities they regulate. Harris resigned Saturday at Argenziano's request and is seeking reassignmnet within the PSC.
Also Tuesday, the staff aides to commissioners Lisa Edgar and Matthew Carter were placed on administrative leave pending a review of their decision to release their private Blackberry messaging codes to FPL, a communication method that avoids a paper trial. Download Edgar September 7 2009 Memorandum (http://miamiherald.typepad.com/files/edgar-september-7-2009-memorandum.pdf)
Rudd, the PSC's director of strategic analysis who admitted to attending a Kentucky Derby party at the home of FPL vice president Ed Tancer, submitted his resignation. Rudd had been supervising the PSC's review of FPL's pipeline request. After he told two commissioners at the Herald/Times that he had attended the party, PSC commissioners removed him from any FPL issues and ordered the agency's inspector general to investigate.
Inspector general Steven Stolting found that Rudd used ``poor judgment'' and may have violated PSC rules by attending the party at Tancer's home but, since he said he paid Tancer $50 in cash the day after the party and kept no receipt, there was no way to prove whether he had or not.
Sen. Mike Fasano, a Republican from New Port Richey, urged the PSC to remove Rudd and, on Tuesday called for the state Senate to conduct an investigation.
Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 05:16:05 PM on September 8, 2009
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Seven more federal judges for Florida?
Citing a growing caseload, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, has introduced a bill that would create 63 new permanent and temporary judgeships across the country, including 12 circuit judgeships.
Florida would get seven permanent district court judges -- 4 in the middle district and 3 in the southern district. The middle district would also get a temporary judge.
"It has been 19 years since the last comprehensive judgeship bill was enacted to address the growth in the workload of the Federal judiciary," said Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Since 1990, case filings in the Federal appellate courts have increased by 42 percent, and case filings in the district courts have risen by 34 percent. The Senate has been debating a comprehensive judgeship bill for years while the Federal courts have been struggling with the overwhelming burden of heavy caseloads. The time to enact a comprehensive Federal judgeship bill is long overdue."
In a recent story (http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/national/as-senate-prepares-to-confirm-sotomayor-many-judicial-vacancies-remain/1025166), we looked at the vacancies President Obama must fill across the nation. "The sooner the better, as far as we are concerned," said Anne Conway, head U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Florida, which runs from Jacksonville to Fort Myers.
Posted by Alex Leary at 04:25:39 PM on September 8, 2009
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George LeMieux pick called conflict of interest
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Rep. David Dreier, R-California in Politico (http://mobile.politico.com/story.cfm?id=26837&cat=topnews): ... The controversies surrounding some of the appointments made after the 2008 election, including then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's alleged attempt to sell the seat formerly held by President Barack Obama, are well-known. As a result, we introduced a constitutional amendment requiring the direct election of all U.S. senators, regardless of how the vacancy occurs. We were proud to be joined by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the former chairman of that committee, in introducing the amendment.
Just eight months later, two more vacancies have already occurred in Massachusetts and Florida, and another is expected in Texas. In Florida, we saw Gov. Charlie Crist appoint his own former chief of staff to the seat he plans to run for in 2010. And if Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison resigns in November or December, her successor will be chosen by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the very person she plans to challenge in a Republican primary. Both of these situations raise serious questions about conflict of interest.
Posted by Adam Smith at 02:35:48 PM on September 8, 2009
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Finance staffers jumping from Alex Sink campaign
Is something a little rocky in Alex Sink campaign? A few weeks ago, co-finance director Ben Pollara - Hillary Clinton's Florida finance director - dropped off the campaign to pursue other opportinities, and the campaign noted still had ace money-raiser Marley Lewis on hand as finance director. Now the Buzz is Lewis is leaving the campaign as well for pursue greener pastures.
Posted by Adam Smith at 01:49:41 PM on September 8, 2009
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McCollum blasts government-run health option
Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican candidate for governor, injected health care into the 2010 campaign debate Tuesday by strongly opposing a government-run insurance program or "public option" that would compete against private insurance companies. He called on Democratic rival Alex Sink to express her views on President Obama's health care proposals.
Referring to what he called the "Reid-Pelosi-Obama" proposals by the Democratic Congress, he said: "You're proposing that everyone have a socialized government plan that limits your choice of a patient and doctor, my choice of insurance and limiting the care you're going to get."
McCollum also announced creation of a 13-member Health Care Advisory Council to advise him on health matters. Members on hand at a news conference included Dr. Redmond Burke, chief of cardiovascular surgery at Miami Children's Hospital; Dr. Karl Altenburger, past president of the FMA; and Joseph Caruncho, CEO of Preferred Care Partners, a managed care firm. McCollum also said that one of the biggest problems still hobbling America's health care system is the high cost of medical malpractice insurance.
McCollum, who served 20 years in Congress (1980-2000), quickly came under fire from the Florida Democratic Party, which cited a string of votes in which the ex-Orlando-area congressman reduced spending on Medicaid and Medicare. The party said: "McCollum spent his 20 years in Washington fighting for the drug companies."
Posted by Steve Bousquet at 01:17:24 PM on September 8, 2009
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Fasano calls for PSC commissioners and staff to answer under oath
Warning that "disaster is in the making," Sen. Mike Fasano is asking Senate President Jeff Atwater to allow the Senate's Ethics and Elections Committee to conduct hearings next month to put the Florida Public Service Commission staff and its commissioners under oath to answer questions.
Fasano warns that because issues surrounding the PSC about its closeness with the utiities it regulates that the "appearance of impropriety has become impropriety itself."
Below is his letter:
September 8, 2009
The Honorable Jeff Atwater
409 The Capitol
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399
Dear President Atwater:
You have no doubt read the many articles from newspapers all around the state regarding the questionable actions taking place at the Florida Public Service Commission. The one entity that the utility customer has in place to watch out for their interests has been plagued by allegations of wrongdoing and ex-parte communications between staff, commissioners and utility executives. It is unfortunate that the agency tasked to make certain that a proper balance between the needs of the business community and the utility customer is maintained is so obviously skewed towards the utilities.
Right now Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy Florida have pending rate increase applications that are the largest in recent memory. Such applications should be considered fully in the open and should not be tainted with the questionable activity that has recently come to light. From the Commission's chief lobbyist attending a party with executives from Florida Power & Light, to the sharing of Blackberry PINs between commissioners, staff and utility executives, the appearance of impropriety has become impropriety itself.
If you throw into the mix the fact that two of the five sitting commissioners are up for possible reappointment in the midst of the rate case it becomes evident that disaster is in the making.
I have publically asked the governor to not reappoint the two sitting commissioners until the rate cases have been disposed of. It is his decision, based upon the timeframe within which he is required to act by statute, to make the determination that he believes is appropriate. However, I believe that the Florida Senate must do all within its power to protect the constituents who rely on us as a body to stand up and speak for them.
I respectfully request that you consider allowing the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee to meet for the purpose of questioning, under oath, Public Service Commission staff and commission members. These individuals who are tasked with making literally billion dollar decisions need to be held accountable for their actions. It is my belief that we move away from news articles in which innuendo and rumor are rampant to a fact-finding effort to determine what these people are doing, with whom they are communicating and how those communications are impacting the pending rate cases.
As the legislative body that ultimately confirms or rejects appointments to the Florida Public Service Commission, the Florida Senate must act quickly before decisions are made that may be adverse to the general public. Millions of people will be impacted by the two major rate cases pending (as well as a host of smaller cases that fill the PSC's docket at any given time). It is our responsibility to ensure that the individuals, and the staff they employ, are making those decisions and are doing so within the confines of the law and to the standards demanded of all officials at the level of a state agency.
State Senator, District 11
Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 01:00:43 PM on September 8, 2009
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Bay County GOP: Sansom should resign
The Bay County Republican Executive Committee has overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on Rep. Ray Sansom to resign from the Legislature. Chairman John Salak said 70 percent of the members voted in favor of the resolution, which you can read here (http://blogs.tampabay.com/files/bcrec-resolution-2009-04-sansom-resignation-signed.pdf).
The resolution cites the grand jury indictment against Sansom for his dealings with Northwest Florida State College as well as the probable cause found by an internal House investigation.
WHEREAS Rep. Ray Sansom's conduct brings shame and disgrace upon all of us fellow Republicans because, wherever venality and corruption and incompetence overwhelm an office, public confidence in our laws are corroded and evaporate; and WHEREAS Rep. Ray Sansom's conduct is doubly embarrassing for Republicans, because it is the type of conduct, when performed by Democrats, which provided us Republicans with our appeal to the Florida voters to toss out the crooked Democrats, so that ethical Republicans can provide government at the State and Local level in Florida.
Posted by Alex Leary at 11:48:42 AM on September 8, 2009
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Attorney General 'looking into' PSC
Attorney General Bill McCollum said Tuesday that his office is "looking into" the Public Service Commission, but beyond that, he wouldn't comment. Following a complaint, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting an inquiry (story here http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2009/09/fdle-investigates-public-service-commission.html).
While we don't know the nature of the probe, the commission has been under scrutiny amid allegations that staffers (if not commissioners) have had a too-cozy relationship with the utilities they regulate. One aide has been fired in a Sunshine-Law flap (here http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2009/09/argenziano-fires-her-staff-aide-for-giving-fpl-phone-code.html), another is on paid leave (story here http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2009/09/public-service-commissioner-lisa-edgar-has-placed-her-staff-aide-roberta-bass-on-administrative-leave-pending-further-revi.html), and the commission's top lobbyist was rapped for showing "poor judgment" by attending an FPL party (story here http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2009/09/psc-lobbyist-showed-poor-judgment-.html).
***Update: McCollum spokeswoman Sandi Copes said this is not an investigation, because the office doesn't have that authority. She said McCollum's comment referred to his office's opposition to a pending rate-hike request.
Posted by Times Editor at 11:15:52 AM on September 8, 2009
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Yet another take on LeMieux (Human Events)
Human Events magazine weighs in with a skeptical take on Gov. Charlie Crist's selection of George LeMieux as Florida's new U.S. senator. The piece recycles material from a Wall Street Journal editorial, from a Times/Herald piece and from Republican consultant and LeMieux critic Roger Stone. Read John Gizzi's piece here (http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=33434).
Posted by Steve Bousquet at 11:08:05 AM on September 8, 2009
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'Canes over 'Noles portends Rubio over Crist?
Because we need an excuse to talk football ... here's the latest from Marco Rubio's press shop:
"It was quite an opening weekend of college football. Here's hoping politics imitate sports as one of the mightiest, seemingly invincible teams (Oklahoma Sooners) went down to a feisty underdog, while the Miami Hurricanes (Speaker Rubio's law school alma mater) defeated Charlie Crist's FSU Seminoles in a Labor Day thriller."
Posted by Alex Leary at 11:04:43 AM on September 8, 2009
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Bob Graham: We gave away the store to Seminoles
Appearing on Political Connections on Bay News 9 this weekend, former Gov. Bob Graham lamented that the governor's office was too generous to the Seminole Tribe in negotiating the gaming compact - "We kind of gave away the store,'' said Graham, who also was disgusted with the advocates for drilling off Florida's coast popping up in Tallahassee. "I could use some very strong language, but I won't on this family television station."
NOTE: Clip may work better on Firefox. The full interview can be seen on Ch. 342, Bay News 9 on Demand in Tampa Bay.
Posted by Adam Smith at 10:36:10 AM on September 8, 2009
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Edgar puts staff aide on administrative leave
Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar has put her chief advisor, Roberta Bass, on administrative leave "pending further review,'' said PSC spokeswoman Cindy Muir. Bass gave the private Blackberry code for instant messaging from Edgar's phone to a Florida Power & Light executive, potentially enabling the company to bypass the state email system and communicate directly to Edgar without a record trail
Edgar said she did not recall receiving any messages from FPL attorney Natalie Smith, who received the code. Emails obtained by the Herald/Times show (N/A) that Bass provided her code, known as the Personal Idenfiication Number, to Smith on more than one occassion.
After the Herald/Times reported the story, PSC Commissioner Nancy Argenziano asked her staff aide, Larry Harris, if he has provided Smith with his PIN number. When he admitted he had, but said he didn't recall using the numbrer, she accepted his resignation (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/florida/story/1221290.html) and he is now seeking reassignment within the PSC.
Edgar sent a note to PSC executive director ordering the action on Monday, Muir said. Muir, as well as the staff aide to Commissioner Chairman Matthew Carter also provided their PINs numbers to Smith, according to the emails.
The PSC today began nuclear cost recovery hearings on whether or not to allow the state's two largest power companies to raise rates on customers to pay up front for the construction of new nuclear power plants. FPL wants to add 67 cents a month to the bill of a typical customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours.Progress Energy proposes adding $2.38 for 1000 kilowatt hours.
Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 10:24:47 AM on September 8, 2009
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"Boss Greer" accused of party purges
The Republican Liberty Caucus reports that the state GOP's grievance committee has removed caucus chairman Will Pitts of Jacksonville and several other members from their party positions as punishment for, among other thing, attending a Ron Paul rally and cricizing state Republican Chairman Jim Greer, Gov. Charlie Crist and John McCain.
"This is just the latest action in the ongoing 'Party Purge'," said grassroots organizer Doug Guetzloe of Orange County, who was banned from participating in party activities until after August 31, 2013. According to Guetzloe, "The reasons for this 'Party Purge' are that we have collectively and individually called for a complete audit of the Republican Party of Florida finances, advocated for candidates not favored by party leaders, and because we are members of the Republican Liberty Caucus."
Here's the caucus press release (http://blogs.tampabay.com/files/rlcpr.pdf).
Posted by Adam Smith at 10:16:31 AM on September 8, 2009
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Bill Nelson avoids stage in health care battle
WASHINGTON - The conference room doors swung open every few minutes, a mini political drama unfolding on the fifth floor of the Hart Senate Office Building.
One by one members of the Senate Finance Committee faced a gantlet of reporters straining for news about a health care overhaul. Amid the clamor that July morning, one senator opted for a more private exit.
Sen. Bill Nelson is Florida's most powerful Democrat in Washington, but he has remained on the margins of the health care debate. Nelson has said little as colleagues from much smaller states take the lead, instead focusing publicly on issues like pythons in the Everglades.
Today, Congress returns from its August break and, once again, all eyes will be on the Finance Committee, which will likely determine the success or failure of a health care overhaul. Restless advocates in Florida say Nelson needs to play a more active role this time around. (story here http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/national/nelson-avoids-the-stage-during-health-care-battle/1034402)
Posted by Alex Leary at 12:05:49 AM on September 8, 2009
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Wasserman Schultz, 'The Nanny' team up
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, will be joined today by Fran Drescher (of The Nanny and Spinal Tap fame) to advocate for to "discuss their personal experience with cancer, address GOP myths on health insurance reform and highlight the urgent need for reform," according to a news release.
The two will hold a 12:30 p.m. conference call with reporters.
"As a cancer-survivor myself, I know how essential early-detection and top-notch treatment are to winning the battle against cancer. The president's health insurance reforms are a vital step in ensuring affordable, quality health care for all. We can't afford to stand-by while opponents of reform try to 'kill' our chance at achieving landmark health insurance reforms that will save lives and curb skyrocketing costs," Wasserman Schultz said.
"As a health care advocate, wherever I go I meet Americans with medical horror stories. The opportunity for real, robust health insurance reform is here now, and we cannot let scare tactics and outright lies slash our chance to succeed in securing quality coverage for all Americans," said Drescher, who is head of Cancer Schmancer (http://www.cancerschmancer.org/).
Posted by Alex Leary at 12:04:06 AM on September 8, 2009