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Florida’s new utility regulator: Uber driver, donkey farmer, legislator – Tampabay.com


TALLAHASSEE — The former state legislator and Uber driver Gov. Rick Scott named to manage the state’s utilities used his clout to dam efforts to place a measure on the 2014 poll to make it simpler for companies to put in photo voltaic panels — the identical month he partied with a Duke Energy lobbyist — and routinely used his political committee to finance every day meals and bills.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Florida PSC approves Duke $50 million request for paying for nuclear project

Ritch Workman, 44, the governor’s shock decide to exchange Ronald A. Brisé on the Public Service Commission, has no utility expertise, runs a interest farm and most lately labored as a enterprise developer for Keiser University. A Republican from Melbourne, Workman informed a reporter in 2015 that he took a job driving for Uber in the course of the legislative session as a result of he had “idle hands and a big family and needed some extra income.”

But the affable legislator, who has six youngsters between him and his second spouse, additionally used his time in Tallahassee to host a minimum of 32 “fundraisers” over three years, which he used to pay for meals, inns and rental automobiles, based on expenditure stories for his political committee filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

It’s all now a part of a document that Workman stated he needs to distance himself from.

“I look forward to the day when stories about me no longer say ‘former legislator’ and instead say ‘PSC commissioner,’ ” he stated Friday. “This is the most exciting thing that’s happened in my 44 years of life, and I’m not going to blow it.”

Workman earned media consideration in 2011 when he tried to convey again “dwarf tossing,” and when his identify appeared on the shopper record of Ashley Madison, an internet courting web site he stated he joined when he was not married. He tried however did not move laws to cease judges from contemplating marital infidelity when deciding how a lot alimony a partner deserves in a divorce settlement, and he rose to prominence in 2014 as chair of the highly effective House Finance and Tax Committee.

As chair of the committee, Workman gained the governor’s affection when he helped to escort by way of a discount in car charges sought by Scott. But Workman additionally refused to listen to a invoice that might have positioned a constitutional modification on the November 2014 poll for voters to determine if companies that set up photo voltaic panels must be given a property tax exemption when their property values rose after the set up of the gear.

He informed the Herald/Times then that: “I just don’t see the need to continue to expand the incentives and underwriting of solar.”

The utility business was quietly against the measure, and Workman’s actions purchased them two years of delay. With huge field retailers demanding it, legislators put the difficulty on the August 2016 main poll — after utility lobbyists efficiently fought to maintain it off the November common election poll — and it was permitted by 73 % of voters.

Workman now considers that motion an aberration, and factors to his efforts to advance a invoice a yr earlier, giving particular person householders a tax break on photo voltaic installations.

In 2015, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli gave Workman the chair of the highly effective Rules Committee, a place that allowed him to regulate what payments and amendments noticed the sunshine of day.

The position made it straightforward for Workman’s political committee, Citizens United for Liberty and Freedom, to draw giant donations from corporations looking for laws. Workman, whose internet value went from unfavorable $24,000 in 2013 to $34,432 in 2015, used the political committee to cowl the price of many costly meals whereas he was in Tallahassee, in accordance with the expenditure reviews.

On in the future in December 2014, throughout every week legislators have been on the town to carry committee conferences prematurely of the legislative session, Workman’s political committee had three expenditures he labeled as a “fundraiser.” Purchases on Dec. 9 included: $65.66 at Jacob’s on the Plaza restaurant, $29.16 at Andrew’s Capital Grill & Bar and $717.70 at Cypress Restaurant. All three are inside three blocks of the Capitol.

Workman’s fundraising for the week did not finish there. On Dec. 10, he spent $225.98 at Kool Beanz Cafe for a “fundraiser” and $119.17 at Avenue Eat and Drink the identical night time, for a “fundraiser.”

The subsequent day he was at The Front Porch, one other excessive-finish restaurant in Tallahassee, the place he spent $62.60. Sometime that day his political committee racked up a invoice for $5,231 on the Governor’s Club, a members-solely restaurant additionally a block from the Capitol.

By Dec. 12, Workman had another Tallahassee fundraiser charged to his political committee: $56.55 at Jacob’s. And on Dec. 13, he was again in Melbourne holding a “fundraiser,” the place he charged $160.36 on the Rodizio Grill.

During this 5-day interval, Workman spent $6,668 at 9 eating places. His committee acquired 4 checks totaling greater than $12,700 in December 2014, together with $6,231 from the Florida Insurance Council and $5,000 from the optometrists’ political committee. All have been dated a number of days after the “fundraisers.”

Throughout 2015 and 2016, Workman’s political committee spent greater than $eight,900 on fundraisers in Tallahassee — the bottom single expense being $18.81 at Andrew’s.

Between 2014 and 2016, there are $three,600 different “travel meals” and “travel expenses” from Nashville to Atlanta to Orlando. They embrace gasoline, automotive leases, resorts and air fare. Workman’s political committee additionally financed a $four,400 journey to the Kentucky Derby in May 2016, the place he joined different legislators together with former state Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami.

“I have a large family. My wife is a self-employed speech therapist. We make just fine money,” Workman advised the Herald/Times. “We own a farm — donkeys and alpacas — a hobby farm and petting zoo. We don’t have a lot of money, and one of the rules I made for myself is this part-time job, with all the remarkable expenses and travel it takes, won’t affect my income.”

He stated he not solely used the “fundraisers” to satisfy with lobbyists however to satisfy lobbyists and their shoppers. “Yes, I’m trying to sell myself and why they should give me $1,000, but it’s also a meal I wouldn’t have otherwise bought and my family shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

State regulation bans legislators from accepting as a lot as a cup of espresso from a lobbyist with out paying for it, however the legal guidelines governing political committees permit lawmakers to take checks of limitless quantities from lobbyists for his or her political committees after which use that to pay for every thing from tolls and tickets to meals and journeys.

“This looks to me like an attempt to get around the gift ban,” stated Ben Wilcox, director of Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based public curiosity watchdog group and he stated Workman’s bills expose the issues within the regulation. “If you call it a fundraiser, and you’re not raising any money but are meeting with potential donors, it’s probably legally a fundraiser.”

Workman’s political committee raised greater than $890,000 over three years with giant contributions from playing, healthcare, insurance coverage, marijuana, telecommunications and sugar pursuits. Workman, who was time period restricted out of the House, ran for a state Senate seat towards one other House member, Debbie Mayfield, in 2016 and misplaced.

The committee raised its final greenback every week earlier than the August 2016 main, when he misplaced to Mayfield. The excessive-finish spending ended then, too. The committee spent its final dollars on contributions to different candidates, a few charities, to pay his accountant’s payments, and to a second political committee, Accomplished Conservatives, that financed a lot of the political spending in his race.

During his eight years within the legislature, Workman’s campaigns acquired $1,500 in contributions from Duke Energy, $1,500 from Gulf Power, $2,000 from NextEra, which owns Florida Power & Light, and $2,500 from TECO.

Florida Power & Light contributed $5,000 to Workman’s political committee. The committee additionally raised one other $109,000 from political committees managed by the Florida Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida, which every acquired giant utility donations.

In April 2014, after Workman halted a vote on the photo voltaic modification, he posed with Duke Energy lobbyist Andreina Figueroa at a Darius Rucker live performance.

“This is how much country I am going to get! With my photo bomber Ritch Workman. #dariusrucker thanks #dukeenergy,” Figueroa posted on Facebook.

During Workman’s interview with the Florida PSC Nominating Council, for the $131,000-a-yr job, he was requested what he thinks are a number of the challenges Florida faces.

Workman responded that he believes that renewable power goes to “cause the biggest heartburn because it’s not only an energy issue but is almost a social issue now.”

He defined that “as solar becomes more and more cost-effective, you see the companies moving more and more to it.” He then echoed the speaking factors of many within the utility business — that are disputed by photo voltaic advocates — and argued that the rise in low-value renewables will value shoppers.

“You have to make sure you balance the need to move to renewable energy — making sure that the ratepayers aren’t overly burdened because it feels good to move to renewables,” he stated.

Reached Friday, Workman stated his objective is “to make the skeptics very, very proud” by demonstrating he’ll “focus on trying to do the right thing,” and isn’t captive to the particular pursuits.

“I’m not beholden to anybody — not the solar industry, the utility industry and not the consumer,” he stated. “Sometimes the law is black and white, but sometimes the law is gray, and when it’s gray I hope to error on the side of the consumer, because they’re the ones paying the bills.”

Workman’s appointment to the PSC is efficient Jan. 2. He should obtain affirmation from the Florida Senate.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@miamiherald.com. Follow @MaryEllenKlas

Florida’s new utility regulator: Uber driver, donkey farmer, legislator 09/30/17

[Last modified: Friday, September 29, 2017 11:20pm]


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