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Gov. Rick Scott picks Rep. Mike Fasano to be Pasco's new tax collector

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott today will appoint Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, as Pasco County tax collector, a move that puts the office in trusted hands and silences the voice of a populist lawmaker whose blunt talk had alienated fellow Republicans.

"I had some doubts that I would be appointed because of my outspokenness," Fasano said Tuesday. "But when I met with the governor, he never mentioned any of that."

Fasano, 55, replaces Mike Olson, a Democrat who died June 26 after more than 32 years in the agency that handles tax bills, driver's licenses and auto tags. The appointment will force a fall special election so voters can choose Fasano's replacement in House District 36, a Democratic-leaning section of coastal Pasco that has twice favored President Barack Obama.

Fasano, who is in his 19th year in the Legislature, inspired strong feelings on both sides. Widely admired by his Pasco constituents for his devotion to their needs, he's reviled by others as a grandstander. He once infuriated fellow senators by offering a floor amendment to cut their salaries, knowing that most couldn't dare vote against it.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, a young House conservative firebrand, called Fasano "a nice man" and "good-hearted" but added: "He's not a Republican. Him being in the Republican caucus is putting a wolf in sheep's clothing. Republicans have begged Gov. Scott to appoint him for weeks."

Fasano had broad support for the appointment in Pasco's political structure from House Speaker Will Weatherford on down, and they backed him for a variety of reasons. Their joint letter hit Scott's desk Monday, a clear sign that the job would soon be Fasano's.

"He's going to leave a big void in the House," said Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, who still has a Fasano campaign T-shirt from 1994 with the slogan "Taking it to Tallahassee" on it.

"We have to always remind ourselves, you have to always be for the individual who doesn't have an advocate. That was Mike Fasano."

After weeks of pondering what to do, Scott phoned Fasano on Tuesday morning and offered him the job. Scott had asked Fasano to meet him face-to-face last Friday and they talked at a Boca Raton hotel where Fasano said Scott never mentioned the politics that were at work.

"He's passionate," Scott said of Fasano. "He cares about his constituents. He's going to be very customer-oriented."

Said Fasano: "I thanked him and told him I'd do my best and keep up the good customer service."

The tax collector is paid nearly $138,000 a year, more than four times as much as Fasano earns as a lawmaker, and the agency has 150 full-time employees. The appointment does not affect Fasano's state pension because he invests in a private plan, not the state pension fund.

Fasano also earned $107,000 last year as a part-time public affairs officer at Florida Hospital in Tampa. He said he'll resign the job when a successor is chosen.

Three possible Republican candidates for Fasano's House seat emerged: attorney Jim Mathieu, the county GOP chairman who lost to Fasano in the 2012 primary and said he will run again; Bill Gunter, a pastor who lost a County Commission bid last year; and lawyer Jeff Lucas. No Democrats surfaced.

Weatherford said he expects Democrats to aggressively fight to claim the seat.

"It's no doubt a swing seat," Weatherford said. "It's going to take a good campaign, a good candidate and probably a whole lot of resources to keep that seat Republican."

As a lawmaker, Fasano's career came full circle, from a loyal partisan lieutenant of Speaker Tom Feeney in the 2000 recount to a maverick Republican who disliked Tallahassee's increasingly top-down style of leadership.

With his knack for attracting headlines and a passion for pocketbook issues, Fasano was a vocal critic of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. He advocated expanded Medicaid, more money for affordable housing and a well-funded prescription drug database, and opposed more privatization of state prisons. He once publicly blasted a $500,000 severance package handed to the state's ousted top tourism executive as a "sweetheart deal."

"He stands up for what he thinks is right," said Alta Trufant, 77, a Democrat and retired employee of the Pasco Sheriff's Office who thinks little of most politicians. "I think we need him. I hate to see someone who we need so much to represent us go into a safe office."

Fasano also is known for his attention to constituent service, a cornerstone of any tax collector's position. Hundreds of Pasco residents have his cellphone number and email addresses, and his name will be more familiar than ever as Pasco taxpayers write checks in his name.

Scott will go to New Port Richey City Hall at 9:30 a.m. today to personally announce Fasano's appointment, which could not be made until he formally resigned from the House. The appointment is through November 2014, when Fasano would face an election.

"All this appointment does is allow me to continue to serve the people of Pasco, a county I love," Fasano said. "We're still here."

Best quotes from Mike Fasano in Legislature

"It is a Republican-driven Legislature because the people wanted it that way. The people of Florida voted it that way." November 2000, when he was launched into the national spotlight during the disputed presidential election

"They continue to promote the disease we know today as the politics of personal destruction." June 2001, in a speech to supervisors of elections, blasting a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report critical of Gov. Jeb Bush's role in the 2000 election. In that speech Fasano called himself a "partisan warrior" in Tallahassee.

"Does anybody in this room believe that BellSouth, Verizon and Sprint would hire hundreds of lobbyists and spend millions of dollars to bring competition on themselves?" October 2003, during debate over a controversial bill to allow phone companies to raise rates

"You have to have individuals who do their homework, who listen, who I hope have a little sympathetic heart for the consumer because they're the ones who always seem like they're getting ripped off." December 2003, speaking about the state Public Service Commission

"Rubio is a slick package from Miami, and people have not seen the other side of Marco Rubio and who he is, where he stands and his flip-flopping, whether it be taxes or cap-and-trade or high-speed rail." February 2010, supporting Charlie Crist for Senate and challenging Rubio's conservative credentials

"Now hold on for a second. Transparent? Amending a piece of legislation in the waning hours of session with a $33 plus million bond issue in it, is that transparent? That never went through a committee. That was never heard by a committee.'' January 2011, in response to 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul Hawkes saying the 1st DCA judges tried to make their new courthouse project "as transparent as possible"

"As you look back at your distinguished career in this Legislature, the real tribute, the real reward, the real take-home bill for you will be in the eyes and faces of those children and adults whose lives you have saved because of this bill." May 2011, this is actually Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, praising Fasano for saving legislation in the final hours of the session to beef up the state's prescription drug database

"What is sad and disturbing is that he can resign and get away with it." November 2011, when 1st District Court Judge Paul M. Hawkes resigned to avoid a trial before the Judicial Qualifications Commission over the "Taj Mahal" courthouse

"This is so irresponsible, this move by Chairman (JD) Alexander and anybody else that's behind it." February 2012, after last-minute language was inserted into a budget bill to create Florida Polytechnic

"It's unfortunate when leaders of the Senate can't lose like gentlemen." February 2012, when Senate President Mike Haridopolos removed Fasano's committee chairmanship after he criticized a private prison plan

"This is a perfect example of how out of touch he and others in Tallahassee are as far as understanding and appreciating what the little guy and gal are having to deal with economically today." June 2012, on former Citizens interim president Tom Grady and the trail of spending he left in his wake

"This is a ploy by Citizens to discourage people from getting (sinkhole) coverage. Tallahassee has no clue what it's doing to homeowners." July 2012, after Citizens approved rate hikes

"Having Bryan Nelson chairing Banking & Insurance is one of the worst things to happen to the consumer. It's the wolf guarding the hen house. Bryan Nelson carries the water for the insurance industry." November 2012, after new committee assignments were made

"Everybody in the House is expected to follow the script. Perception is everything but, I've learned over the years, what is best for the public is not just a script, it's independence." April 2013, Fasano was the only House Republican to break ranks and vote for Medicaid expansion during the session

"Forget all of those other reasons to expand Medicaid. We should do this because we're supposed to help people, period." 2013 session

"If you're going to have an ethics bill, it should be one that's going to be as tough as possible on those that are public servants, especially those that are elected. Otherwise, why bother doing one?" 2013 session

"Politically, with his numbers so low with women in the state of Florida, I would have told him there were many reasons to veto this bill." May 2013, talking about Gov. Rick Scott and why his veto of a controversial alimony reform bill was good politics.

"It's no different to me than grand theft. The Legislature needs to investigate. How did this happen?" August 2013, on the billions Duke Energy Florida customers are on the hook for because of the shuttered Crystal River nuclear plant and the canceled Levy County reactors.

Gov. Rick Scott picks Rep. Mike Fasano to be Pasco's new tax collector 08/06/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 6, 2013 10:57pm]
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