The Florida Senate hit a snag late Friday as it the final day of session was winding down when a routine confirmation of Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar took a surprise turn as legislators spent a half-hour in vigorous debate before confirming her 26-13.
Edgar, who is seeking a third term on the board that regulates utilities, was criticized by several senators for too pro-utility while supporters said she was well-qualified and deserved another four years in the $130,000 job. She was appointed to the post by Gov. Rick Scott, after a commission dominated by legislators nominated her for a third term.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, led the opposition as supporters and opponents crossed party lines. As chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, he had previously voted to confirm Edgar but decided he wanted to raise his concerns about her voting record.
"She does not do an adequate job of representing the ratepayers and consumers of the State of Florida,'' he said. He said she could have been more aggressive in holding utilities accountable before allowing FloridaPower & Light and the former Progress Energy to charge customers for pre-construction costs for nuclear power plants.
He referenced the 2009 stories by the Herald/Times about the text messages she and other PSC staff and members gave to a power company executives, potentially allowing the utility to communicate directly with them outside of public view and without leaving a paper trail. And he noted her personal bankruptcy, an issue that he said did not color his opinion of her confirmation.
"What’s done has been done. Give her a gold watch and say thank you for your eight years of service,'' said Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, who said it was time for Edgar to retire. He along with Latvala authored the bill to require electric companies to go through a more rigorous review before they can collect the nuclear fees.
Defending Edgar, however, was a bi-partisan group of lawmakers led by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who had previously voted to nominate Edgar to former Gov. Charlie Crist.
"This woman has been appointed by three governors,'' Joyner said. She acknowledged there had been a period of "ex parte issues" relating to text messages with utility lobbyists and staff, but noted that Edgar has "a reputation for character and integrity."
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said Edgar had gone through the proper process and should be confirmed.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, disagreed. "The truth is, Ms. Edgar's record has been consistently supporting utility companies,'' he said. "I would love to see us put someone a little more consumer friendly on this."
The confirmation allows Edgar to serve another four years on the five-member utility board.
"It is gratifying to have the support of the Governor and the Legislature,'' Edgar said in a statement after the vote. "I'm excited about getting back to work for the next four years on issues important to Florida's future and to every family."
Senators who voted against confirmation: Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, Jeff Brandes, R-Tampa, Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, Nancy Detert, Venice, Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, John Legg, R-Lutz, Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, Eleanor Sobel, R-Hollywood, Darren Soto, D-Orlando.