Crist to Make PSC Pick Wednesday, But Uncertainty Looms

By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida
By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Nov. 23, 2010 --

Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to name a replacement to fill the unexpired term of former Public Service Commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano on Wednesday.

On his way out of office in January after losing the U.S. Senate race, Crist technically has until Thanksgiving Day to name someone to serve out the final couple months of Argenziano’s term, but a spokesman said Tuesday that the governor would likely make his pick known before the end of the day Wednesday. Argenziano sought to be reappointed, but wasn’t. Crist picked Julie Brown and Eduardo Balbis to join the commission this coming January, replacing Argenziano and Nathan Skop, whose term also is ending and who wasn’t reappointed. But Argenziano stepped down early to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.

Crist's office has given indications that he will likely tap either Balbis or Brown this week to fill the seat.

Coloring the decision is the shadow of Gov-elect Rick Scott, who has the power to recall Crist's picks as soon as he takes office in January if he wants to begin putting his own stamp on the PSC.

It’s a play Crist is familiar with since he did the same when he withdrew two of former Gov. Jeb Bush's appointments in favor of Argenziano and Skop.

The uncertainty over what might happen when Scott takes over for Crist has largely frozen a process that moved pretty quickly the last time a PSC Commissioner resigned early. In October 2009, then-Commissioner Katrina McMurrian stepped down early after Crist didn’t reappoint her. Seventeen days later, Crist announced he was putting one of his picks to replace her, David Klement, on the panel early and Klement began serving right away - though he was later voted off the PSC by lawmakers.

This time, Crist has taken almost all the time allotted to him to replace Argenziano, who resigned six weeks ago. The PSC has a quorum without her, though, so it has continued to meet.

PSC spokeswoman Cindy Muir attributed the lengthier process to the inherent awkwardness of a gubernatorial transition, which has not typically accompanied unexpected vacancies on the utility regulation panel.

Argenziano herself has suggested that Crist leave the seat unfilled, telling the News Service last week "If I were Gov. Crist, I just wouldn't pick anyone. Let Gov.-elect Scott take the credit for whatever he does.”

Scott's Fort Lauderdale-based transition team has told the News Service of Florida that the governor-elect would review the PSC picks alongside a host of other appointments made by Crist, but had not made any decisions yet.

Bill Newton of the Florida Consumer Action Network, a frequent critic of recent iterations of the PSC and the decision to dump Argenziano and Skop, said that he did not have much hope for Scott’s eventual PSC choices – and blasted the Legislature for backing pro-utility members.

“One thing we know is they won’t be very pro-consumer,” Newton said. “We’ve given up on the Legislature. There’s not going to be anything remotely pro-consumer. They’re firmly pro-business and pro-utility.”

Critics of the PSC have proposed returning it to an elected commission, but that’s gone nowhere in recent years.

When Crist first tapped Brown and Balbis in October, it was seen as another bone to those who want to see the PSC include more outsiders who, theoretically, may not be predisposed to side with the industries regulated by the panel.

Brown and Balbis were the only two of the seven names from which Crist chose who did not have extensive utility or state government experience.

If Crist picks either Brown or Balbis, they would serve the last couple months of Argenziano's term before beginning their own.


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