There is occasionally good news in Florida politics. Here is some. Robert F. Milligan, the state’s last elected comptroller, has applied for a vacancy on the Public Service Commission, the board created to protect consumers from sky-high rates for electricity, water and phone services.
Milligan, a retired Marine lieutenant general, set the mark for dedicated, professional service without regard to politics. When he suggested that his office be merged with another, he made possible the historic compromise that shrank Florida’s bloated Cabinet from six seats to three.
Considering his accomplishments and reputation, it would be scandalous were Milligan not among the candidates, at least three, whom the law requires the Public Service Commission Nominating Council to recommend to Gov. .
Milligan’s characteristic independence may pose a challenge to the nominating council, a legislative creature that has shown a preference for the political cronies favored by power companies and other utilities the PSC supposedly regulates.
This is a test for both the council and Scott, and the public will be watching. Six of the 12 council members are legislators. Four of the applicants are present or former legislators, as is one of the four present PSC members. The massive campaign contributions from the utilities and their lobbyists are the elephant in the room.
Jimmy Patronis, the commissioner whose truncated term Milligan wants to finish, was a termed-out House member from Panama City, where he had run a restaurant, when Scott appointed him two years ago. In June, the governor named him to succeed Chief Financial Officer , who resigned to work for Florida Atlantic University.
As it happens, Milligan was instrumental in creating the position of chief financial officer, which combined the Cabinet offices of comptroller and treasurer.
The additional non-constitutional duties of those offices were controversial and had given rise to criminal indictments in the 1970s. The comptroller was also the state banking and securities commissioner, and the treasurer was better known as the insurance commissioner. Neither was barred from taking campaign contributions from those industries, which usually invested in them generously.
When Milligan ran against five-term incumbent Democrat Gerald Lewis in 1994, he said in a “Governing” magazine interview, “I didn’t get a single contribution from anyone in the regulated community. They were afraid of retaliation.” He was outspent ten to one.
But that circumstance highlighted Milligan’s position that no one elected official should have such power over sensitive industries, and he won with 51 percent of the vote.
He had been recruited as a candidate by Tom Slade, the Republican Party’s state chairman, who passed up the usual suspects in the Legislature to recruit Milligan, a Naval Academy graduate who had recently wound up his career as commander of fleet Marines in the Pacific.
Late in his first term, the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years, was considering whether to propose shrinking the six-member elected Cabinet, an idea that had been around for 20 years without success. Milligan and then-treasurer , now Florida’s senior U.S. senator, agreed that their offices could be combined. They could not agree on who should regulate the financial industries thereafter, but didn’t let that stop them from encouraging the revision commission to go ahead.
Voters approved the three-member Cabinet — the governor, though he meets with the Cabinet, is not technically a member — in the 1998 election. Milligan and Nelson were re-elected to offices that would be merged four years later into the new position of chief financial officer.
Milligan was not a candidate for the new post, though he threatened to run when it appeared the Legislature might put the office in sole charge of both insurance and banking. The Legislature eventually created the Department of Financial Services under the governor and Cabinet, in which appointed regulators oversee the financial industries. Subsequently, Milligan held temporary positions as director of the State Board of Administration and executive director of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Of note: Milligan, 84, wants to serve only the last 15 months of Patronis’s term on the PSC. That would be time enough, though, to demonstrate the sound leadership that could be provided by someone who doesn’t need to be concerned about regulated industry retribution.
In 2010, when Charlie Crist was governor, two of his appointees failed to win renomination from the council, and two more were denied confirmation by the . All four had voted against rate increases for Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy. Their successors voted against allowing staff to begin an inquiry into whether some FPL customers were entitled to refunds.
Who needs someone like Milligan on the PSC? We all do.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Gary Stein and Editor-in-Chief .