Pasco superintendent race turns nasty
Incumbent Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino, frustrated by constant attacks on her eight years of leadership from challenger Kurt Browning, has fired back against the former Florida secretary of state. Likely Republican absentee voters got a mailer over the weekend in which Fiorentino aimed at every GOP hot button she could muster.
Playing off early 2011 media reports, Fiorentino blasted Browning as a "double dipper" for taking his taxpayer pension earned from his years of service as Pasco supervisor of elections while also taking a taxpayer salary to work as secretary of state under Gov. Rick Scott. She accused him of looking for a third dip by seeking another public-sector salary as superintendent. (Browning would not be drawing three separate payments.)
She also pointedly noted that Browning used to be a Democrat.
"He signed a form that says, I am retiring after I finish DROP,'" Fiorentino said in an interview. "So he wasn't telling the taxpayers the truth when he signed this form? I am questioning that."
Browning, who has pledged to take a $1 salary for his first year of service as superintendent if elected, received the ad in his mailbox. He accused Fiorentino of trying to change the conversation from the school district's performance to pure politics.
"The main reason why I pledged to work for no salary for at least the first year was to keep focused on the education issues," Browning said, without disputing the numbers in Fiorentino's ad. "She refuses to talk about it. Instead, she wants to talk about my retirement."
He noted that the state established the Deferred Retirement Option Program under Gov. Jeb Bush, and all he did was follow the rules, taking DROP and pension payments as set forth in law after retiring from the Charlie Crist administration. He did also get paid for working under Scott. He also mentioned that Ronald Reagan was a Democrat before becoming a Republican, adding that he's "always been conservative."
"If she wants to talk about the past, she can continue to talk about the past," Browning said. "I am talking about the future of our children's education."
Both candidates expected the race to get even more heated in the five weeks leading to the Aug. 14 Republican primary. Stay tuned.