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189 posts from June 2010

June 30, 2010

Nominating council rejects Argenziano and Skop, ousting them from PSC

 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 thejob, 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.

Continue reading "Nominating council rejects Argenziano and Skop, ousting them from PSC" »

June 29, 2010

Biden will have dinner with Petraeus in Tampa tonight

After visiting Pensacola this afternoon, Vice President Joe Biden will fly to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and will have dinner with Gen. David Petraeus and Holly Petraeus at their home.

Petraeus, President Barack Obama's choice to take over the war command in Afghanistan, was before the Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing. Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and George LeMieux sit on the panel.

Johnson gets no jail time for agreement

UPDATED: Delmar Johnson, the inside source who provided information that led to the indictment of former Florida GOP boss, Jim Greer will not face criminal charges after agreeing to testify.

Johnson, the party's former executive director, agreed to testify "concerning the extent of his compensation or remuneration ... attributable to his involvement in the scheme to obtain monies from the Republican Party of Florida," according to the four-page agreement obtained by the Times/Herald.

The deferred prosecution agreement released Tuesday outlines his sweet deal which comes with immunity. "Johnson voluntarily came forward and self-reported his involvement to the Republican Party of Florida and state and federal law enforcement," statewide prosecutor Bill Shepherd wrote.

Johnson agreed to repay $65,093 to the Florida GOP and also agreed to make controlled phone calls as a part of the investigation. Asked about the deal, Johnson's attorney Bob Levinthal said it was fair. "What would the state party auditors and state law enforcement know if not for Delmar Johnson," he said. "Maybe you could equate him with a whistleblower ... who gets rewarded for his cooperation."

Levinthal refused to disclose further details about his client's role in the investigation. But said he came forward before being asked to.

Sink urges federal claims czar to follow Florida; calls for special session

As businesses continue to struggle with the myriad of obstacles imposed by BP when getting their claims paid, CFO Alex Sink said it's time for Florida legislators to come into special session to write some rules for how BP handles its claims process in Florida.

In a letter today to Kenneth Feinberg, who has been assigned by President Obama to manage the $20 billion escrow account and pay claims, Sink advised that the feds should learn from Florida's experience dealing with insurance claims and have a transparent, easy-to-understand process, with firm time limits that's fair to both sides.

"Under a hurricane situation businesses know they have a certain number of days to respond,'' Sink told reporters today. "If you don’t agree with the claims payments there are ways to appeal. Right now we're in a situation with  where there are no rules and there are no expectations and I believe in the legislators would be able to clarify what the expectations -- the protections -- are for a small businesses and local governments trying to file claims."

Here's the text of the letter:

Continue reading "Sink urges federal claims czar to follow Florida; calls for special session" »

Head shops sue over Rouson's anti-bong bill

Times colleague Shelley Rossetter reports: A state law that makes it a crime to sell smoking devices such as pipes and bongs at most head shops takes effect Thursday. And that has some of the shop owners fuming.

So much so that 26 of the specialty retail stores across the state have filed a lawsuit in Hillsborough County to stop the law, calling it unconstitutional. The law "singles out a specific type of retail business, and criminalizes the owners," the lawsuit filed on June 18 said.

Sponsoring Rep. Darryl Rouson's reaction: "Everyone knows what's being smoked out of these pipes; the only ones who claim they don't know are the sellers of these pipes," he said. "The law just tries to chip away at what we know is a facade." (Full story here)

Wait, wait ... Crist will be with Biden

So yesterday, the governor's office said Charlie Crist was not planning on going to Pensacola to be with Vice President Joe Biden, despite appearing on an official White House announcement.

But this morning, Crist's spokesman Sterling Ivey says he has changed his schedule and will head to Pensacola after all.

June 28, 2010

Gelber quits law firm after BP hires it

Dan Gelber quit his law firm, Akerman Senterfitt, on Thursday after BP hired the firm to represent it in the oil claims process.

BP hired Akerman Senterfitt to handle civil litigation weeks ago. Gelber, a Democratic state senator running for attorney general, submitted his letter of resignation last week, according to campaign manager Christian Ulvert.

In an interview with the Times/Herald on Monday evening, Ulvert disclosed Gelber's resignation after challenger Dave Aronberg called on Gelber to resign. "As a candidate for attorney general, it is an inherent problem when your own law firm is on other side of one of the most important pending lawsuits in Florida's history," Aronberg said in a statement. "Working for the law firm that is defending British Petroleum for damage done to Florida beaches is disqualifying. You don't have to be a lawyer to know that you can't profit from the polluter and then represent those who have been injured by that same polluter."

Gelber initially resisted suggestions about a conflict of interest, telling the Daily Business Review "I know nothing about the case, nor will I ever." Read more here.

Big name Dems rasiing money for Gelber

State Sen. Dan Gelber is hosting a fundraiser Tuesday at Mise En Place in Tampa. The host committee features some big name Democrats supporting his bid for attorney general. Here's the invite. Among the hosts: Betty Castor, Mayor Pam Iorio, Jim Davis and Barry Cohen.

How Dean Cannon's $727k could help Alex Sink

Soon-to-be House Speaker Dean Cannon has joined soon-to-be Senate President Mike Haridopolos in the big-money bashing of fellow Republican Rick Scott, who is now the front-runner v. their governor candidate, Bill McCollum.  Cannon's committee gave the cash, $727,000 in three big chunks (more here) to the Florida First Initiative, which McCollum is using as a vehicle to bash Scott.

Haridopolos, as we reported last week, isn't far behind with his Citizens Speaking Out group, which has yet to post a web page detailing its financing activity.

All the scorched-earth big-spending against Scott could prove to be a little risky for the GOP. Suppose he actually wins the primary election and he has to face Democrat Alex Sink with his entire party having called him a party to a massive fraud. Now whom does that help?

But wait. There's more. One Republican pointed out to us that the money Haridopolos and Cannon have raised through their committees might have gone to help Republican legislative candidates (Frank Artiles for state Rep., anyone?). Now the cash is going to McCollum instead. That might make some of the tea-party-leaning rank-and-filers not so happy.

** Update: McCollum Friday acknowledged his relationship with Florida First and another group, Sunshine State Freedom Fund, by filing with the state's election division a Statement of Solicitation detailing his involvement. Intriguingly, McCollum's Building Integrity & Lasting Leadership Fund seems pretty dormant, save a few recent expenditures to an accountant and a $40,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida on 8/19/09. Wonder what that was for? Paying the bills when RPOF was almost failed to make payroll?

Haridopolos' Freedom First Committee and Cannon's Liberty Fund each received $500,000 from three companies controlled by Miramar doctors Paul Zimmerman and Gerald Glass on June 16 ($150k each from Orthopaedic Fellowship Group; another $150k each from Durable Medical and another $200k each from Green Solar Transportation). Haridopols then gave $403k to Citizens Speaking Out.

Former Crist aide bashes the guv over oil spill

As one of the last Republicans to leave Charlie Crist's Senate campaign when he left the GOP, one-time Crist spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg is now the Republican National Committee's mouthpiece and unleashed this zinger amid news reports** that her old boss will be stomping tomorrow with VP Joe Biden in the Panhandle:

"As Floridians’ frustration with the oil spill continues to rise, it’s becoming clear to everyone except Governor Crist that the Obama Administration is failing to solve this crisis. How can the Governor continue to praise this Administration when it has taken 71 days for Vice President Biden to even visit the Gulf, the leak hasn’t been capped, and additional skimmers haven’t been able to make it to the region? This is a real tragedy with real consequences for Floridians, and instead of simply singing the praises of the Obama Administration, Governor Crist should focus on providing concrete solutions for the people of his state."

**Note: Crist's office denies he'll be with Biden