You Scratch My Back, I’ll Stab Yours
There was a Shakespearean twist to the week that was as official Tallahassee was captivated by a 56 minute phone call between former Republican Party of Florida Executive Director Delmar Johnson and his ex-boss, Chairman Jim Greer, that was being listened to by investigators, unbeknownst to Greer.
The tape, released as part of a deal that will see Johnson pay $65,093 restitution to the state GOP but face no jail time nor criminal record for his role in allegedly steering party money to a company he owned with Greer, showed the one-time political partners and close friends discussing politics, rumors swirling of their impending downfall and making small talk. Each man sounded wary the other might be turning on him and working with the authorities – and in the end Greer’s fears were correct.
Johnson, who is godfather to Greer’s son, had made the call under the supervision of state investigators. He maintained a nervous stammer throughout the conversation, even as he assured Greer "you never have to worry about me.”
Turns out Greer should have been very worried.
For his cooperation, the Office of Statewide Prosecution went light on the Brutus of the partnership, which investigators said funneled party contributions to their company, Victory Strategies. Johnson was "under the dominion, control and direction of his supervisor, James Greer, in the commission of the scheme to obtain monies from the Republican Party of Florida," they said.
Greer appeared at times in the March 25 marathon phone call to feel the walls closing in, though he sounded like he never would have expected that his old friend was in on the pushing.
"(I heard) that I was going to be indicted and I was going to be arrested and .... that you were cooperating with people, which is almost a joke,'' Greer said at one point. "Because, like, what would you or I be cooperating with — except with each other?"
“Exactly,” Johnson replied.
There was as much interest this week in the potential witness list in the budding case against the ousted GOP chairman as there was in the details of Greer and Johnson’s chat. Among the records turned over to Greer's defense lawyer, Damon Chase, was a potential trial witness list of 63 party leaders and record keepers for banks and credit-card companies. Among them: Gov. Charlie Crist, who hand-picked Greer to lead the party, and possible future House speaker Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, a close friend of Greer's.
Surprisingly not on the witness list yet was a group Johnson dubbed on the call the “four horsemen” for orchestrating the effort to replace Greer: current GOP chairman Sen. John Thrasher, Attorney General Bill McCollum, House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park and Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.
The horsemen may not roam completely free yet, however. Greer's lawyer is expected to submit a list of prospective witnesses of his own and a preliminary court date has been set for October, with just enough time left for any embarrassing details that have not come out to end up on the campaign trail.
HEAVE-HO TO ARGENZIANO (AND SKOP)
It appeared people might be out to get Florida Public Service Commissioners Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop this week too, though they at least saw it coming. But no one would confuse the outspoken duo and the Legislature as friends, so no backs were stabbed when the PSC Nominating Council took up their applications for second terms this week.
But the knives were definitely out for them.
The nominating council agreed to grant interviews to 18 candidates, but left Argenziano and Skop off the list, denying them four more years on the PSC. In doing so, Argenziano and Skop became the third and fourth commissioners to be basically fired this year from the panel, which voted against rate increases for the state's largest power company, Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, earlier this year.
That wasn’t lost on either Argenziano, who had said before she submitted her application that she thought lawmakers would reject her, or Skop. Both blamed the utilities.
“The Public Service Commission Nominating Council and Senate and House leadership got their marching orders from (big business lobby) Associated Industries of Florida, and have acted accordingly," said Argenziano, a former Republican lawmaker who threatened to leave the party over the decision.
"It shows the extent to which the Legislature is influenced by the companies that we regulate,” Skop agreed. “Four members of the commission who voted against the (FPL) rate case have lost their job, which clearly smells of retaliation."
At least one of the companies the PSC regulates, FPL, kept mum on the decision, but a host of consumer groups and populists politicians didn’t. Gov. Charlie Crist said he was “saddened.” Lawton “Bud” Chiles, a candidate to replace Crist, said there should be a grand jury investigation. And Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said Argenziano and Skop should have at least been interviewed.
AARP said the decision moved the PSC closer to being a "public disservice commission.”
Elsewhere in the energy sector, a group of supporters of renewable energy gathered in the House chamber – where green energy legislation has gone to die in recent years - for another push. Hoping the massive Gulf oil spill will change minds seared by oil images, the “Clean Energy Congress” met for two days this week and signed a “Declaration of Energy Independence.”
The politics of energy were on full display. Organizers worked hard to present an image larger than their green thumbs and a Tallahassee area state House race competed for headlines. State Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who’s been hammered in her primary by former Leon County Democratic Party Chairman Rick Minor over voting in favor a bill that would have allowed oil drilling, was ubiquitous during the Clean Energy Congress, saying she’s always been a champion of renewable energy. But Minor kept drilling on the oil vote, saying Vasilinda was changing her political stripes.
Oil was also still a topic this week in the western Panhandle, where officials continued dealing with the spill and the state's Oil Spill Recovery Task Force met in Pensacola. Agency for Workforce Innovation Director Cynthia Lorenzo questioned whether workers who were receiving state jobless benefits were being short-changed on compensation from BP, though B Vice President Darryl Willis said he was unaware of any such instances.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer learned this week what friends are for when a recorded phone conversation that he had with his partner-in-(alleged)-crime Delmar Johnson at the behest of investigators surfaced.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Kiss my godson for me,” former Republican Party executive director Delmar Johnson to Greer as he cooperated with an investigation targeting his boss and godson’s father.