NEW PORT RICHEY — In a ceremony that was part tribute and part celebrity-style roast, Mike Fasano was officially named Pasco County's tax collector Wednesday morning.
The New Port Richey Republican, who served 18 years in the Florida House and Senate, called Gov. Rick Scott's appointment an honor and quipped that he was "moving from constituent service to customer service" by replacing longtime tax collector Mike Olson, a Democrat who died June 26 after more than 32 years at the agency.
Scott described Fasano as a "tireless worker" in the Legislature who will bring that same energy to the tax collector's office, handling tax bills, drivers' licenses and auto tags.
"You know where he stands," Scott said.
"You don't always agree with him, but you know where he stands," the governor quickly added, garnering laughs from the crowd at New Port Richey City Hall.
Fasano, 55, who resigned from the House on Tuesday and officially started his Pasco job Wednesday, often clashed with Republican leadership, including Scott, but was widely admired by constituents.
One by one, local legislators — House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby — took turns recounting their time in Tallahassee with Fasano and taking a few jabs.
"We're going to miss Mike Fasano," Weatherford said. "I remember once he added a little, tiny amendment onto a bill, and then we spent nine hours debating it."
Weatherford added more seriously, "I never met anyone who fights harder for his constituents than Mike Fasano."
Legg recalled how constituents from homeless people to senior citizens streamed into Fasano's district offices for assistance.
"He would literally go to the store and pick up food to take to a family," Legg said.
Simpson said the "governor got it right," when he appointed Fasano. "I'm looking forward to the 100 phone calls from Mike in the legislative session telling us what we got wrong," he said.
After the ceremony, Fasano, Scott, several of the legislators and other local Republicans walked to Christina's Family Restaurant for breakfast.
The governor will call a special election to replace Fasano in House District 36, which leans Democratic and twice backed President Barack Obama.
"I wouldn't be surprised if, during the election, the Democrats push hard for that seat," Fasano said.
Elaine Togneri with the Pasco County Democratic Executive Committee said a campaign committee is being formed but that so far no Democrats have announced their candidacy.
Meanwhile, one Republican has stepped forward: Bill Gunter, a pastor who lost a 2012 bid for the Pasco County Commission.
New Port Richey lawyer Jeff Lucas expressed initial interest in running but reconsidered, saying Wednesday that he is now supporting Gunter.
"My heart is to serve the people of Pasco County," Gunter said. "There's a lot of things going on, different issues in the news that people are very frustrated for. They need someone who is going to represent them, as opposed to special interests."
There's no deadline to set the election, although Weatherford is expected to start making committee appointments next month and it's hoped the new lawmaker would be available for committee meetings in October and November.
Pasco elections chief Brian Corley said two tentative dates for the election have emerged: Oct. 1 for the primary and Oct. 29 for the general election.
Fasano, who will have to run for re-election in 2014, said he planned to head to the tax collector's office later Wednesday to meet the staff.
He said he plans "one major change" in the coming days but declined to elaborate.
Staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.