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Against the grain, ahead of the pack

If you have faith in democracy, you have to believe voters will come to their senses. You have to think the craziness in Tallahassee will eventually stop.

And when it does, two local lawmakers should look pretty good.

The names of Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who represents the west side of Hernando County, and Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, whose district includes the east side, have popped up a lot in the first month of this year's session.

Usually, it's in the context of a stunningly bad idea. Usually, they're against it.

Hopefully, you've read Howard Troxler's columns on so-called "leadership funds." I can't match him for historical perspective (or outraged eloquence) so I'll take his word that this is a new low. If you look at his list of Tampa Bay area lawmakers who voted "no," you'll find that Fasano and Dockery are the only Republicans.

They also spoke out against Gov. Rick Scott's ill-considered "no thanks" to $2.4 billion in federal high speed rail funds. Dockery even co-wrote a letter to U.S. Transportation Department Secretary Ray LaHood asking him to reconsider.

This was signed by a majority of senators, so she wasn't exactly isolated. But remember Dockery long ago alienated the Republican Senate leaders and had endorsed Scott in his run for governor. He seemed to be about the only powerful friend she had in Tallahassee. With this letter, she stood up to him even before the session started.

What else? Lots of stuff, but under the circumstances, ethics reform seems like a good place to start.

Dockery has long been for it and, this week, so is Senate President Mike Haridopolos — he of the incomplete financial disclosure form and the stinky $152,000 book deal and, not incidentally, the ongoing campaign for U.S. Senate.

But Fasano said Haridopolos' version relies too much on the honor system. And, obviously, if there was honor in Tallahassee we wouldn't need the bill in the first place.

Last year, Dockery and Fasano voted against the purge of Public Service commissioners who had the nerve to represent consumer interests. In a committee this week, Fasano also voted against recommending the confirmation of PSC Chairman Art Graham. He objected to Graham sharing drinks with big-shots from a utility that has a case before the commission. Sounds reasonable, but his vote was the only "no."

Dockery has a long history of clashing with leadership; Fasano's didn't achieve full maverick status until he backed former Gov. Charlie Crist's independent U.S. Senate campaign.

So why these two and, for Fasano, why now? Their party's rightward shift has something to do with it. They're both Tallahassee veterans and this may be a glimpse back to pre term-limit days when lawmakers had time to build autonomy. Or it's the flip side of term limits; neither one can run again, which has to be liberating. But they will, presumably, run for something. And they have to think their outsider status will help.

What about state Rep. Rob Schenck, who represents most of Hernando? Well, he voted for leadership funds and didn't have much problem with dumping the rail deal and has been Scott's man in the fight against a database designed to monitor prescription drugs. Keep that in mind when the craziness stops. Or, better yet, next election, do your part to stop it.

Against the grain, ahead of the pack 03/31/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 8:06pm]

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