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Politics

Legislator awaits appointment approval

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published January 9, 2007


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Today should be a proud day for Ken Littlefield as the veteran state legislator assumes a coveted spot on the Public Service Commission, the board that regulates utilities in Florida.

But even as he takes the oath as a commissioner, Littlefield has to worry about job security.

Gov. Charlie Crist, a champion of consumer-friendly causes, is re-examining some late appointments made by his predecessor to state boards. He told the Florida Times-Union this weekend that those appointments include Isilio Arriaga and Littlefield.

PSC members have authority over utilities in rate regulation, oversight of competition and monitoring of safety and service.

In the Florida House, Littlefield's voting record included support for a local phone rate increase and relaxed ethics rules for the commission he now joins. He defended his record Monday: "I have been consumer-oriented."

The two appointments must be confirmed by the state Senate. Crist could decide not to send Arriaga's and Littlefield's names for confirmation, or send them and ask that they not be confirmed.

A spokeswoman for Crist did not have details regarding the appointments Monday, but said an announcement is expected this week.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he thinks state senators, including himself, will confirm whomever Crist wants.

"These are governor appointees," Fasano said Monday. "I will confirm the individual that Gov. Crist would like on the PSC, the board of medicine, the board of dentistry, Swiftmud, the basin boards.

"I will confirm those who are selected by Gov. Crist."

If Littlefield and Arriaga are not confirmed, state law says the selection process must start anew.

Meanwhile, Littlefield and Arriaga would serve in the posts until others are chosen, PSC spokesman Anthony DeLuise said.

Littlefield, a Republican and Crist supporter, was seeking a fourth full term last year to the District 61 House seat he won in 1999 through a special election.

Early in the campaign, he also applied for one of two vacancies on the PSC, four-year appointments that pay $132,690 annually.

Even after then-Gov. Jeb Bush tapped him for the PSC, Littlefield flirted with staying in the House race but eventually dropped out.

His tenure as a legislator frequently intertwined with utility matters. Last year, he chaired the House Utilities and Telecommunications Committee and was a member of the Water and Natural Resources Committee.

During the 2006 campaign, he took at least $5,000 from groups representing utility interests - namely phone and electric companies.

In 2003, he voted for a bill that loosened regulation of phone companies and set the stage for the largest local phone rate increase in state history.

He also supported a repeal, three years later, that allowed automatic annual rate increases to customers.

As state attorney general, Crist fought the 2003 increase in court, but the law was ultimately upheld.

In 2005, Littlefield sponsored a bill that became law, allowing PSC members to attend conferences and meals subsidized by the utility companies they regulate.

His picture and bio already appear on the PSC Web site.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at 352 521-6521 or moorhead@sptimes.com.

[Last modified January 9, 2007, 07:51:35]


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