State Politics

Senate committee OK’s Bradenton man for PSC

TALLAHASSEE — After a personal appeal from Gov. Charlie Crist, a Senate committee approved his two appointees to the Public Service Commission — but not after committee members grilled both nominees and complained about a lack of racial diversity in their choices.

The Senate Communications, Energy and Utilities Committee voted 8-1 to confirm the appointment of Benjamin “Steve” Stevens and David Klement to four-year terms on the panel that regulates the state’s utilities. Only Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who has lobbied for Florida Power & Light before the Fort Lauderdale City Commission, voted no.

“Both gentlemen are fine gentlemen,” Smith said. “...Their attributes will be a positive influence on the PSC.”

But he voted against their confirmation because, he said, he wanted to send a message to the governor that it’s not acceptable to leave blacks off the panel.

Six nominees were sent to the governor by the PSC nominating council in October. Three — including chairman Matt Carter — were African Americans. Two — Klement, former chairman of the Bradenton Herald editorial board, and Stevens, former chief accountant for the Escambia County sheriff — had no previous ties to the PSC. Both are white.

When Crist named the two men to the PSC in October, the regulatory panel was in the throes of a conflict-of-interest scandal amid disclosures that commissioners and their aides were too close to the utilities they represent.