Feb 7, 2002
By DAVE SIMANOFF and DAVID WASSON, The Tampa Tribune
TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush, who last week said failed energy trading giant Enron Corp. never sought to influence his push to deregulate Florida's wholesale power market, spoke at least twice with the company's representatives in 2001, records show.
Bush held a 30-minute phone call with Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lay and fielded questions from Marc Racicot, who was an Enron lobbyist and is now chairman of the Republican National Committee.
E-mail messages and calendars, released Wednesday by the governor's office under a public records request by the Florida Democratic Party, show a concerted Enron effort to bend Bush's ear.
The conversations occurred months before Enron, a Wall Street darling and major GOP campaign contributor, collapsed in December amid allegations of financial mismanagement.
When asked Jan. 28 whether he had discussed his desire to deregulate Florida's wholesale electric market with Enron representatives, Bush thought for a moment before shaking his head and saying no. He said the only company to meet with him about deregulation was Duke Energy.
Bush spokeswoman Katie Baur said Wednesday the governor had forgotten about the Enron meetings.
``The governor has an excellent memory, not an infallible one,'' she said.
``This was nearly a year ago,'' said Baur, seeking to keep plenty of distance between Bush and the company now under intense congressional scrutiny. ``Enron was riding high; it was the seventh-largest company in the nation. It would have been unusual for him not to return a phone call.''
Records show it took Enron's local lobbyist and Bush's scheduling assistants more than a month to arrange a convenient time for the call.
Too Busy To Meet
Tallahassee lobbyist Bill L. Bryant sent the governor an e-mail March 7 proposing a meeting between Bush and Lay to discuss energy deregulation.
``When the bill now pending in Congress becomes law, a competitive wholesale market will soon follow,'' Bryant wrote. ``Mr. Lay would like to discuss this with you and explain how it would affect Florida.''
Bush replied personally, writing ``I would love to meet with Ken.''
Busy schedules prevented the men from meeting, but a phone call was arranged, and Bush spoke with Lay for about half an hour April 17.
On May 1, Bush received an e-mail message from Racicot, the GOP insider, who had joined Bracewell & Patterson, a law firm representing Enron.
Racicot wanted more information about pending bills in Florida that would affect the construction of new power plants. ``I would like to know what they do, how they would help, if at all, and what the predictions are that either one will be passed by the Legislature,'' he wrote.
Bush told him he doubted the bills would pass, but promised a follow-up call from policy adviser Brian Yablonski.
Baur said Racicot was not representing Enron at the time. But the message came from a Bracewell & Patterson e-mail account.
Nearly two years ago, Bush created a task force to study how Florida could foster greater wholesale electricity competition. The group rolled out a deregulation plan for the 2001 legislative session that was shelved by lawmakers.
A modified proposal is circulating now, but it also is being ignored by lawmakers, many of whom are leery of pushing deregulation in an election year, particularly after California's rolling blackouts in the summer.
Documents also show Bush met with leaders of Azurix, an Enron subsidiary, in 1999. Azurix proposed to pay the state's Everglades restoration costs in return for the right to sell water from the wetlands.
Baur said the meeting was unproductive. ``They came, they met, they left,'' she said. ``Nothing happened.''
Reporter William March contributed to this report. Reporters Dave Simanoff and David Wasson can be reached at (850) 222-8382.
This story can be found at : http://www.tampatrib.com/MGAP4ZF4EXC.html
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