State Politics

Gov. Crist expected to name PSC appointees today

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to announce his replacements for his two ousted appointees to the state utility-regulation board Wednesday, and will choose from a list of eight applicants that includes many with deep ties to utility companies.

Crist interviewed the candidates last week to fill two positions on the Public Service Commission and told The Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times that he wants to select a commissioner who is willing to offer an independent, pro-consumer point of view, and that “some more than others” fit that criteria.

The appointments will fill two positions on the PSC that were vacated when David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens were rejected for confirmation by the state Senate in April.

Crist’s list was put together by the PSC Nominating Council, a 12-member board whose chairman and six members are legislators. Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton Republican and chairman of the council, called the list of applicants “one of the most qualified” the panel had ever seen.

Crist is expected to choose two names from the following:

n Rep. Ron Brise, a Democrat from Miami whose former telecom company, IPIP Telecommunications, used to share contracts with a company now under indictment for bribing Haitian officials. Brise says he joined the company after the questionable behavior, left it in January 2009, and was never involved.

n Connie Murray, a former three-term Republican state legislator from Springfield, Mo., who was appointed for two terms on Missouri’s PSC by two Democratic governors.

After leaving the panel, Murray took on a $30,000 consulting job with Ameren UE, a St. Louis-based utility that is the largest in the state. She was once publicly reprimanded by a state legislator for allowing a gas company to get a 44 percent rate increase without a public hearing. She defends the decision.

n Charles Ranson, a consultant who has worked in economic development in Kansas and Florida and is the former executive director of the Florida TaxWatch Center for a Competitive Florida. He formerly represented telecommunication clients before the Legislature and his former law partner represented clients before the PSC.

n Mary Bane, the retired former executive director of the PSC, who served on the commission for more than 40 years, including the last year in which the agency came under fire for allowing staff to exchange text messages and socialize with the utility officials they regulate.

n Sen. Lee Constantine, an Altamonte Springs Republican who chaired the nominating council for the last two years, and recently resigned from the council so that he could apply for the PSC job. He pushed for sweeping energy legislation that would have required the state’s utility companies to obtain 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. The measure was twice rejected by the House.

n Arthur Graham, a Jacksonville city councilman and chemical engineer who previously worked for Georgia-Pacific paper company.

n Curt Kiser, a former state senator who was recruited to be the PSC’s general counsel in November after it came under fire from the governor. He sponsored legislation creating the PSC nominating council.

n Kevin Wiehle, chief legislative analyst for the state Senate’s utilities committee, who helped draft many of the most important utility-related bills in the Legislature in recent years, including a 2003 rewrite of the state telecommunication law.