NEW PORT RICHEY — Mike Fasano worked his way through the Republican ranks, starting as a teenage campaign volunteer in Pasco and rising to a powerful state senator.
Little surprise, then, that he wanted his recent exit from the Pasco GOP executive committee to be viewed only as his choice — and not as a result of being forced out by his longtime critics.
Earlier this week he said his resignation had nothing to do with the latest grievance filed by Pasco party leaders over his support of Gov. Charlie Crist, now running as an independent for U.S. Senate.
On Wednesday, however, he acknowledged the complaints were the final straw that prompted him to quit.
"Why battle two individuals that really I wish would take more of their energy and put it into something else?" Fasano said of Pasco GOP chairman Randy Maggard and state committeeman Bill Bunting.
On Tuesday, Fasano had said he didn't even know about the latest grievance, which was filed eight days before his July 29 resignation. He blamed his departure on being fed up with the Pasco group's "dictatorial leadership."
But Ronnie Whitaker, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, called Fasano after the state party received the July 21 grievance, party spokeswoman Katie Betta said Wednesday.
Betta confirmed that a hearing was scheduled for Aug. 21 for state party officials to hear the Pasco GOP's request to remove Fasano from the local committee.
"Sen. Fasano was notified," said Betta. "That's what we typically do."
Asked Wednesday about the matter, Fasano acknowledged receiving a call from Whitaker, but said the party chief failed to specify that there was a new grievance.
Instead, Fasano said, Whitaker implied he was calling about an earlier complaint filed by the Pasco GOP in May. That one also alleged that his public endorsement and support of a non-Republican violated the state party constitution's objective to get Republicans elected.
"The only time I was told about any grievance was (about) the original one that was filed," Fasano told the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday. "I told you the truth yesterday."
Betta, the party spokeswoman, said, "It was (Whitaker's) understanding that Sen. Fasano was aware there were two separate grievances and that the second rose to the level that the chairman referred it to the (party) grievance committee."
Fasano said he thought the old grievance was just lingering as an unresolved matter, and that's when he got fed up and decided to find out if he could get off the local committee.
"He never told me there was going to be a hearing, when there was going to be a hearing," said Fasano. "That's when I called (state party chairman John Thrasher) and said, do I have to be involved?"
Thrasher told Fasano that he didn't have to stay on the county executive committee, on which Fasano automatically sits as an elected state legislator. Fasano had already resigned from the state executive committee in May, saying he had other time commitments.
Maggard and Bunting said this week that they think Fasano realized he didn't want to go through a hearing on the new grievance and end up losing. The grievance hearings are informal, and the committee makes recommendations to the party chairman.
Maggard and Bunting say their goal is simple: to make sure Republican leaders publicly support Republican candidates, as the state and local party constitutions say is their objective.
Fasano said he has the U.S. Constitution on his side. He said he wasn't worried that he'd lose.
"If I had wanted to challenge or fight this, I would have. But that's not the issue," he said. "I haven't been part of the Pasco REC for five, six years. Why would I fight something that I'm not part of, anyway?"
Fasano, frustrated by the questions Wednesday, said the state party was under relentless pressure by the Pasco GOP to make an example of him for his support of Crist. He said no one from the state party had even bothered to send him a copy of the grievance.
The New Port Richey Republican has had a number of tiffs with Bunting over the years, and the two men have no love lost between them. Just this week, Fasano called Bunting and Maggard "two unknown people"; Bunting called Fasano a "little worm."
Fasano said when he called Thrasher to talk about his role on the Pasco committee, the state chairman was equally exasperated.
"He pretty much said he can't wait till his term expires," Fasano said, "because he has to deal with 50 Buntings a week."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.