Although most Democrats running for the state legislature in the Bay area are being out-fundraised by their GOP opponents, St. Petersburg-based House Democrat Dwight Dudley isn't one of them, as he faces Republican Bill Young with two weeks to go in the House District 68 race, which encompasses St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park.
Dudley has kept himself in the news cycle more than most House Democrats by seizing on voter antipathy towards Duke Energy, before it was hip to do so. Now, with recent reports about the public utility being accused of offering higher rates to local businesses and churches to add to its other less-than-customer service-friendly ways, it's become a bit fashionable in Pinellas County to criticize the local power utility, with state Senator Jack Latvala leading the way.
"What I’ve noticed is this great enthusiasm has started to occur about ten minutes before Election Day," Dudley replied sardonically on Monday morning, where he arrived early to greet Charlie Crist at an early voting press event in downtown St. Pete. "I've been working on this for more than two and a half years and had zero help until now." But while admitting he might be a "bit jaded," he's also hopeful that meaningful change can finally take place next year in Tallahassee when it comes to the investor-owned utilities.
But he says that proposed legislation from Latvala and Kathleen Peters is more about the "freckles and the warts on the elephant," the elephant itself being the repeal of the utility tax that the Legislature voted in back in 2006 that allowed Duke to charge ratepayers to build a new nuclear plant in Levy County (that was later canceled) and upgrade the existing Crystal River plant.
"That’s the elephant we need to manage, handle and take care of that elephant, not just the freckles and the warts, " says Dudley, an attorney based in St. Petersburg who won the then-open House seat in a bitterly contested contest against Frank Farkas.
Dudley would also like to reform the Public Service Commission, but a bill he previously filed that would require those members to be democratically elected (instead of appointed by the governor and subjected to approval by the Legislature) from a specific region of the state to make them more accountable has languished in Tallahassee. His focus on reforming that regulatory body hasn't diminished, however.
"The PSC is more of a farm team and a training place for these investor-owned utilities to harvest talent and help teach them to beat all the rules and the regulations," he says, adding that regulatory reform bills died because of partisan politics. He now says he's cautiously optimistic they'll get a different look in 2015. "I need to have cooperation from the other side, so I look forward to that happening," he says, before admitting that due to the past couple of years he's concerned and suspicious that won't happen.
Dudley accuses his opponent, Bill Young, of taking campaign contributions "from people that aren't helpful to us," meaning the investor-owned utilities. A review of Young's campaign contributors does show several donations from TECO energy, but he denied he has taken contributions from Duke, and there are no donations from that company listed.
However, he has taken $500 to Duke's Florida president, Alex Glenn, and $500 from another Duke official. But Young told the Tampa Bay Times' Curtis Krueger that he didn't know that Glenn was Duke's president. Young did not return CL's call for comment. But the candidate was asked about those contributions at a recent political forum in Pinellas County. Watch below: