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THE BUZZ: FLORIDA POLITICS

How the screw turned on Greer

The noose had been tightening around Jim Greer for weeks by the time old protege and right-hand man Delmar Johnson finally returned his calls.

Law enforcement was snooping around. Rumors were rampant about imminent arrests. Blogs and newspapers featured fellow Republicans Ñ former friends and fellow party leaders, for God's sake Ñ trashing Greer and accusing him of illegal activity.

Some of his most adamant defenders had stopped taking calls, and people whispered that even Johnson was throwing Greer under the bus to investigators. So when Johnson finally phoned on March 25, the former Florida Republican party chairman sounded wary and relieved.

Posted by Adam Smith at 10:15:52 PM on June 30, 2010

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Skop says PSC council didn't look for best qualified and needs reform

Public Service Commissioner Nathan Skop, who was rejected for a second four-year term today by the PSC nominating council because the council wanted to "start over" continued to point fingers at his colleague Commissioner Lisa Edgar whose aide delivered a text message to her from an FPL lobbyist while she was at the bench. The Ethics Commission has ruled that Edgar broke no rules.

"Today is a very sad day for the people of the State of Florida,'' Skop wrote in a statement, "a day that reflects the status quo and the desire to keep Commissioners who exhibit an open willingness to exchange PIN messages and engage in secret communication at bench with FPL, while removing honest public servants seeking to uphold the public trust and confidence in the Florida Public Service Commission."

Council member Mike Hightower, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield lobbyist, said at the start of the hour-long council meeting that he thought it was time to "clear the board." He said it was time for the PSC to ÔÔstart over'' and create a commission whose members would work well together and with other agencies in the state, including the Legisla-

ture, to create a state energy policy.

Hightower made no reference to the rate case or the performance of the commissioners, but instead focused on internal infighting and lack of trust between council members, which he called ÔÔextraordinary."

Here's Skop's full statement:

Tallahassee, Florida - The PSC Nominating Council met today to designate the list of the "most qualified" applicants to be interviewed for term vacancies on the Florida Public Service Commission. Despite my multi-disciplined education (JD, MBA, BS Engineering) and extensive professional experience (Nuclear Power and Renewable Energy) I was not afforded the opportunity to interview to keep my job. This determination was allegedly made without any debate or discussion.

As many of the letters of recommendation in my application suggested, I am extremely well qualified to serve on the Florida Public Service Commission, and arguably have the best qualifications of any utility regulatory commissioner in the United States. Accordingly, it is evident that the selection process had nothing to do with selecting the "most qualified" applicants to be interviewed in accordance with the statutory criteria. If it did, it stands to reason that my name would be included on the interview list. A comparison of my qualifications to those included on the list clearly demonstrates this point.

Today is a very sad day for the people of the State of Florida; a day that reflects the status quo and the desire to keep Commissioners who exhibit an open willingness to exchange PIN messages and engage in secret communication at bench with FPL, while removing honest public servants seeking to uphold the public trust and confidence in the Florida Public Service Commission. This concern is overwhelmingly shared by the editorial boards of every major newspaper in the State of Florida which supported my reappointment.

As a quasi-judicial regulatory panel that makes billion dollar decisions on a frequent basis, the role of the Florida Public Service Commission is to decide cases on the merits in a fair and impartial manner. TodayÕs outcome clearly illustrates the substantial role that money, influence, special interest, and politics play in the nominating process and why the process is in need of substantial reform.

While apparently afforded no consideration by the PSC Nominating Council, I greatly appreciate the letters of recommendation that Congressman Stearns and members of the Florida Legislature wrote on my behalf, and commend these elected officials for recognizing the importance of having fair, impartial, and ethical representation on the Florida Public Service Commission on behalf of their constituents.

Sincerely,

Nathan A. Skop, Esq.

Commissioner

Florida Public Service Commission

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 08:32:00 PM on June 30, 2010

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Top GOPers so far evade the scrutiny in Greer investigation

Jim Greer and Delmar Johnson called them "the four horsemen.

"The sobriquet referred to a band of powerful Republican politicians who earlier this year played an integral role in the ouster of Greer and Johnson from the helm of the Republican Party of Florida: Attorney General Bill McCollum, future House leader Dean Cannon, future Senate leader Mike Haridopolos and current party Chairman John Thrasher.

The names appear numerous times in a criminal investigation that led to the June indictment of Greer but the four GOP officials were never questioned, according to evidence released this week. The omission prompted renewed questions Wednesday about the limited scope of the investigation and the role of McCollum, the state's top legal officer who is running for governor.

Posted by Times Editor at 07:51:22 PM on June 30, 2010

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Florida delegation splits party line on 'Wall Street reform'

The U.S. House moments ago voted 237-192 to approve a set of far-reaching financial regulations, and Florida reflected the partisan divide. All Florida Democrats voted in favor; all Republicans voted against. Here's a sample of the opposing views:

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa: "Under this legislation, consumers and middle-class families win and the big Wall Street banks lose. This historic financial reform legislation will enable us to finally fight Wall Street greed and avoid creating another economic crisis. It will rein in big banks, put an end to taxpayer bailouts and create a new Consumer Financial Protection agency to protect consumers rather than the big banks."

Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge: "ThereÕs zero accountability for government regulators who were asleep at the switch. Sadly, this bill leaves gaping holes that all but guarantee massive failures and future taxpayer bailouts. It provides implicit guarantees to large banks that they will be bailed out if they get in over their heads. How does that promote responsibility?"

Posted by Alex Leary at 07:23:34 PM on June 30, 2010

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Crist will meet with BP claims czar

The meeting between Gov. Charlie Crist and Ken Feinberg, the government-appointed administrator of the $20 billion BP compensation fund, will finally happen. Crist's schedule shows they will meet 3 p.m. tomorrow in Tampa. Feinberg is seeking input from oil-affected states on the most pressing claims and the overall process.

Crist also has a telephone meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Topics: oil and the hurricane.

Posted by Alex Leary at 06:17:38 PM on June 30, 2010

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Crist asks for another $50M from BP for tourism ads

Gov. Charlie Crist has asked BP for another $50 million for tourism advertising. In a letter to BP's Chief Operating Officer, Doug Suttles, Crist says the state has already "deployed" the initial round of $25 million. (Officials have told us the money is planned for throughout the summer but has not yet been spent.)

"Your investment in Florida's tourism marketing not only helps Floridians, but it also benefits your company," Crist wrote. "Remember that visitors coming to Florida beaches, staying in Florida hotels and eating in Florida restaurants result in fewer claims for economic losses."

Posted by Lee Logan at 05:08:41 PM on June 30, 2010

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Charlie Crist takes a little jab at Jeb Bush

Gov. Charlie Crist was downplaying the potential political fallout from his connections to the indicted ex-party chairman Jim Greer when he made this analogy to the Greer mess: "Jeb's feet weren't really held to the fire when that guy at Corrections got popped."

Crist was referring, of course, to Jimmy Crosby, the former prison boss who's still serving time for taking kickbacks from contractors. For those who've been under a rock for the past 18 months, Jeb Bush is a strong supporter of Crist's U.S. Senate rival, Marco Rubio. And Crosby's attorney, Steve Andrews, was recently listed on the host committee for a Crist-for-Senate fund-raiser in Tallahassee.

Posted by Steve Bousquet at 04:50:48 PM on June 30, 2010

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Crist: Loss of Argenziano and Skop 'enormously disappointing'

Gov. Charlie Crist expressed dismay at the PSC nominating council's decision today to reject the reappointment of Commissioners Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop to the state utility board.

"I am enormously disappointed,'' Crist told the Herald/Times. "I think that both Nancy and Nathan have done an exceptional job particularly looking out for the consumer. It shouldnÕt be surprising to me, but itÕs very, very disappointing on behalf of the consumers of Florida. They have served with such dignity and great passion and intellect for ratepayers all over the state."

Crist has eight names he must sort through to decide which of them he appoints to the first two open positions, vacated by the Senate's rejections of his two nominees: Benjamin "Steve" Stevens and David Klement. He said, "I think weÕve got some good candidates,'' but is still unhappy that the last two were not confirmed. "That was shortsighted and was more about politics than doing whatÕs right for the people of our state."

He said he will be guided by candiates who are "people with intellect and people with a compassion about them and a concern for the people. ThereÕs an added element now that relates to the Gulf and that we have people who are open minded as it relates energy issues and the notion that we should encourage more independence from oil."

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 03:23:09 PM on June 30, 2010

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No women (unless paid) said to be allowed at Fla GOP fundraising events

Some interesting nuggets in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigative report into former state party chairman Jim Greer.

From former party (and Charlie Crist) finance director Meredith O'Rourke: O'Rourke stated that she was aware of Greer having "men only" meetings. As an example, O'Rourke recalled a "Thank You Trip" that Greer planned for the major donors to Governor Crist's "Yes on 1" amendment dealing with property taxes. As a thank you to major donors, Greer took several major donors on a trip to the Bahamas. No female staffers were allowed to go on the trip although Delmar Johnson and Greer's travel aide, Jeremy Collins, went on the trip. O'Rourke also recalled speaking to a female lobbyist friend, Beth Kigel, who relayed to her of a "men's only" meeting at the Governor's Club in Tallahassee, Florida wherein Greer and Governor Crist were attempting to solicit major donors for the Governor's "Yes on 1" initiative. Kigel informed O'Rourke that she was excluded from the meeting while one of her clients, a male client, was allowed in to the meeting ...

From Kigel's FDLE interview: Kigel said that Greer held a meeting sometime in 2009 at the Governor's Club in Tallahassee to discuss Amendment 1. Kigel stated that she attended the meeting with a client of hers. On the way in, Greer stopped Kigel and told her that she was not allowed to come in the meeting. He then told her to take care of the ladies at the bar. According to Kigel, the client told her that the meeting was about donating money to Amendment 1 and that Greer told everyone in the meeting to not discuss the meeting with anyone, including Kigel. Crist and Harry Sargeant attended the meeting ... Kigel said she heard of another trip from a client that took place in the Bahamas. Kigel was told that she was not supposed to know about this meeting either. Kigel further stated that she heard that women were involved and paid.

More from O'Rourke: O'Rourke claimed that Greer made inappropriate sexually related comments in her presence. O'Rourke gave an example of being in a group including Greer, wherein Greer made the comment that if he gave her (O'Rourke) a contract, she'd have an orgasm and if he gave her a credit card contract, she'd have two orgasms. O'Rourke claimed that Howard Gruverman and Scott Rothstein were present when the comment was made. O'Rourke stated that she also observed inappropriate sexual comments on blogs that she suspected Greer wrote as she observed grammatical errors in the blogs that she knew Greer to make regularly.

Posted by Adam Smith at 02:22:43 PM on June 30, 2010

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Rick Scott ties McCollum to Greer-gate

This didn't take long. Rick Scott's campaign is asking challenger Bill McCollum about his role in the Jim Greer saga.

It comes after prosecutors released a secretly taped phone call in which Delmar Johnson said "McCollum played a much bigger role behind the scenes than we realize."

Scott campaign: With new information coming to light, Florida voters deserve to know more about Bill McCollumÕs behind-the-scenes role in negotiating his political kingmakerÕs severance package and coverup. Was Bill McCollum questioned, and if not was it because of his position as attorney general?

Posted by John Frank at 01:54:41 PM on June 30, 2010

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Argenziano blasts Legislature for being corruptible and influenced by cash

Stung by the Public Service Nominating Council when it refused to interview her for reappointment to her job, PSC Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano fired off a blistering statement that accuses the Legislature for being "corrupt and corruptible'' and that "money talks in Tallahassee.''

"I take some pride in having leveled the playing field, consistent with the law, so that the ratepayer, with no protection other than the integrity of five commissioners, could compete with the monopolies ..." she said. "That this should have cost me my job, given the decrepitude of the Legislature, was a foregone conclusion."

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 12:48:08 PM on June 30, 2010

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Crist not worried about role in Greer probe

Gov. Charlie Crist said he is not worried about his role as a state's witness in the criminal case against his handpicked GOP boss, Jim Greer, and how it might affect his U.S. Senate bid.

"No a whole lot. I'd rather it hadn't happened, obviously, but I have such an abundance of faith in the fairness of Floridians," he said in an interview with the Times/Herald's Steve Bousquet.

Crist, who said he has not retained an attorney, said the vast majority of voters have no interest in the Greer case. "ItÕs intriguing, I guess," he said by phone as he was driving in Miami, "but I guarantee you these cars that are going by me now, they donÕt have a clue and they donÕt really care."

Crist flew from Pensacola to Miami this morning for campaign fundraising events. Asked why he is listed as a witness, he said, "I donÕt know why. I canÕt tell you anything about it. But IÕm happy to do anything to bring justice to bear."

He said he submitted an affidavit to clear the air. "I thought it was the right thing to do," he said. "I wanted to make it crystal clear that (Victory Strategies) was something that I had nothing to do with. The truth is in writing."

Posted by John Frank at 12:09:56 PM on June 30, 2010

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VP Biden and Gen. Petraeus at dinner in Tampa

The White House just released this photo of Vice President Joe Biden meeting with Gen. David Petraeus at MacDill Air Force Base on Tuesday night. They met at the Petraeus home at U.S. Central Command.

Posted by Amy Hollyfield at 11:38:02 AM on June 30, 2010

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House approves 'Paula Hawkins Post Office'

The U.S. House just approved a resolution designating a post office in Maitland as the "Paula Hawkins Post Office Building." The bill is sponsored by Rep. John Mica, Republican of Maitland.

Paula Hawkins, the first woman without a family connection to win a full U.S. Senate term, died Dec. 4, 2009. She served from 1980 to 1986. (obituary here)

Posted by Alex Leary at 11:09:21 AM on June 30, 2010

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Council ousts Argenziano and Skop

In quick fashion Wednesday, the Legislature-dominated Public Service Commission Nominating Council ousted Gov. Charlie Crist's two appointees to the state utility board, landing the final blow to the panel that voted against the two largest rate increases in state history.

The 12-member council voted to interview 18 candidates for the two positions on the state utility board in August, and refused to interview PSC chairwoman Nancy Argenziano or commissioner Nathan Skop.

Argenziano and Skop had sought reappointment for the four-year term but were widely opposed by the powerful utility industry, particularly Florida Power & Light, who saw them as hostile regulators. Their terms expire January 2011 for the $130,000 a year job.

The council had no debate about the 55 candidates who applied for the job, just some discussion about a future energy policy. This removes all but one of the commissioners who voted to reject the largest rate increases sought by FPL and Progress Energy. It had been a goal of the companies to remove the other two Crist appointees, Benjamin "Steve'' Stevens and David Klement and the Florida Senate agreed and refused to confirm them.

Argenziano said in a statement that the decision came as no surprise, and blamed the Legislature and the business lobbying group Associated Industries of Florida, which has been a close ally of FPL on legislative issues.

"I take some pride in having leveled the playing field, consistent with the law, so that the ratepayer, with no protection other than the integrity of five commissioners, could compete with the monopolies," she said. "That this should have cost me my job, given the decrepitude of the Legislature, was a foregone conclusion."

The nominating council is controlled by the Florida Legislature, with six legislators and a chairman, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Sarasota, whose pro-industry leanings are evident in the political committee Bennett chairs, named "Committee Supporting Utilities and Competitive Commerce." The nominating council also includes six lay people, some of whom work with the utility industry in their jobs.

Armando Olivera, chief executive of FPL, which is now known as NextEra Energy, told the Miami Herald editorial board Wednesday that he would not comment on FPL's role in the ousting of Argenziano and Skop, but did not deny a statement from a NextEra manager that company lobbyists Eric Silagy and Paul Hamilton had either direct or indirect contact with members of the nominating council in their attempt to persuade them to oust the sitting commissioners.

"As a matter of policy, we don't talk about the political process," Olivera said. "There it's not in anybody's interest for us to weigh in the political process; nor have we commented on PSC appointments. We're a regulated company, a lot better off not (commenting) on regulators and whether we like a regulator or don't like a regulator."

Bennett said council members rejected Argenziano and Skop because they didn't like the internal politics at the commission, even though there was no public debate and no discussion about their performance.

"It appeared that they were more than willing to take the disagreement to the public," he said. "I just believe that you don't need to do that. You can disagree without being disagreeable. I don't feel like we ousted anybody. We were looking for a Public Service Commission that will be more congenial, more cooperative."

The panel has recommended eight names to Crist to replace Klement and Stevens. He has until July 15 to pick his choices or the nominating council will do it for him.

Argenziano received a vote from Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Skop received a vote from Sen. Steve Oelrich and Gerri McPherson.

State Senator Mike Fasano, a harsh critic of the utility industry, said the move by the council was a blow to consumers in Florida.

"It is evident that unless you support the big utility companies you will never have a chance to continue serving on the Florida Public Service Commission," Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said in a statement. "They were not afraid to ask tough questions and not walk in lockstep with utilities."

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 10:53:19 AM on June 30, 2010

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Jeff Greene rips Charlie Crist over Jim Greer case

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene on news that Charlie Crist is listed as a potential state witness in the prosecution of former GOP Chairman Jim Greer:

"The people of Florida need to hear from Charlie Crist, who hand-picked his friend Jim Greer to be the Republican Party chairman. Crist may claim he knew nothing about Victory Strategies, but Greer's attorney, Damon Chase, claims that Charlie Crist not only knew about Victory Strategies but was involved in conversations regarding the scam organization. So who's telling the truth? The only way for the people of Florida to know is for Charlie Crist to take the stand and state under oath his full knowledge and his involvement.

"The three career politicians in this race, Kendrick Meek, Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, are each involved in a corrupt political scandal. They each put their own ambitions and the special interests first, and the people of Florida second. To learn the facts visit: www.theyareallcorrupt.com

Posted by Adam Smith at 10:11:26 AM on June 30, 2010

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Et tu, Delmar? 'You never have to worry about me'

As he knowingly lured the father of his godson into a phone call recorded by prosecutors, Delmar Johnson had this reassurance for Jim Greer: "You never have to worry about me."

It's just one of scores of scintillating details in the 56 minute call between the two (Times/Herald story here). Greer sounds panicked, trying to determine who is a friend and who is an enemy. He even confronts Johnson with rumors that Johnson has turned on him.

But a stammering Johnson keeps the conversation going, finally ending it with a promise to visit Greer in Central Florida.

"Kiss my godson for me," Johnson says.

Posted by Alex Leary at 12:19:21 AM on June 30, 2010

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