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Fate of Crist's PSC Picks Rests with Scott

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

Tallahassee, FL - The two most recently-named Public Service Commissioners are yet to make a regulatory ruling, but with a new governor taking office in January, they could have short terms.

PSC Commissioner-designates Julie Brown and Eduardo Balbis legally could be recalled by Gov.-elect Rick Scott once he takes office. When Gov. Charlie Crist came to power in 2007, he withdrew nearly 300 appointments to state boards and commissions made by former Gov. Jeb Bush, including two PSC commissioners.

Crist picked Brown and Balbis to replace Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop, whose terms end Jan. 1, and who weren’t put forward for new terms by a legislative nominating panel. Argenziano quit early – before Election Day – and so Crist could pick either Brown or Balbis to serve the last couple months of her term before beginning their own term.

But Gov.-elect Scott retains the right to begin shaping the PSC in his own manner by taking back Crist’s appointments and naming his own, as Crist did in 2007. That would be a further blow to Crist’s efforts to reshape the panel – which he had claimed was too industry-friendly. In addition to seeing his picks of Argenziano and Skop denied second terms, Crist had two other picks rejected by the state Senate.

However, PSC Nominating Council Chairman Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, told the News Service on Monday that he had “no reason to expect” Scott would pull back the Brown and Balbis nominations.

Another legislator, Sen. Mike Fasano, said Scott should leave Brown and Balbis in place because they were vetted by lawmakers on the panel that nominates commissioners for Crist to pick from.

“The picks are coming from the legislative committee, so why would they recall them?” said Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

Scott’s Fort Lauderdale-based transition team told the News Service that the governor-elect would be reviewing the PSC picks and a host of other appointments made by Crist, but had not made any decisions yet.

“Once in office Gov.-elect Scott will be doing a top to bottom review of all agencies,” Scott transition spokesman Trey Stapleton said in an E-mail. “He will make a decision on agency leaders after he considers all assessments and recommendations.”

Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said the soon-to-be ex-governor was not worried Scott would “get to work” on crafting his own PSC by striking down the last two Crist appointments.

“There’s no concern from our end on that,” Ivey said.

Crist, he said, would likely make an announcement this week on filling Argenziano’s term for the rest of the year since he will be in Tallahassee for the special legislative session, when lawmakers are expected to overturn a host of his vetoes in a show of their new supermajorities, and Crist’s diminished influence in the swiftly-moving on capital.

Argenziano, continuing a long refrain of criticism, said the PSC nominating process was so influenced by utilities that Scott, who ran strongly in favor of less regulation, would likely leave the Brown and Balbis nominations alone.

“It would be only if the utilities really weren’t happy with the picks, and I think they put together the whole list,” Argenziano charged.

Argenziano said she would not be surprised if Crist left her seat unfilled until Scott takes office. The PSC’s quorum is three commissioners, so the panel, now led by Commissioner Art Graham, has continued conducting business in the wake of her unexpected resignation. Argenziano, a former Republican lawmaker, stepped down in October to endorse Scott’s unsuccessful Democratic opponent, Alex Sink.

“If I were Gov. Crist, I just wouldn’t pick anyone,” she said. “Let Gov.-elect Scott take the credit for whatever he does. I just wonder why if Rick Scott’s energy plan is less regulation, why do we even have an expensive Public Service Commission?”

PSC General Counsel Curt Kiser, himself a former lawmaker, took a different tack, saying that most new governors recall picks from their predecessors to begin putting their own stamp on state government, even if they do not have ideological differences like those that appear to separate Crist and Scott.

“It’s discretionary whether the governor does that or not, but I would say as a standard of practice, any governor is going to recall all the appointees he can so he can review the choices,” Kiser said. “You also want the appointee to understand they work for the new governor, not the governor who appointed them.”

Kiser added that if Brown and Balbis are ultimately withdrawn because they were picked by Crist, Scott could take a liking to them on his own and put them on the panel.

“Let’s face it, (the new governor’s) term is going to be affected by them,” he said. “They want to make sure they are going to be represented well. If they agree with the choices, they can always re-appoint them.”


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