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Fasano popular with constituents, but not with fellow Republicans

We'd be hard-pressed to name any Tampa Bay politician more popular with his constituents and less popular with leaders of his own party than state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

If you wonder why, just check out Fasano today on Political Connections on Bay News 9 laying into his Republican colleagues.

"We're going to come to Tallahassee and say no new taxes, no new fees, no increase in taxes, no increase in fees," Fasano said in the interview airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. today. "And yet, through the back door, my colleagues want to raise tuition. And yet, through the back door, my colleagues want to increase homeowners insurance premiums. Through the back door, my colleagues want to increase electric rates and telephone rates. To me, that's hypocrisy at its worst."

With term limits forcing him to give up his Senate seat and redistricting still in the works, Fasano's future remains unclear. We've heard of one private poll showing him beating U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, but Fasano said the chances are "slim" that he would run against Bilirakis.

He's still waiting to see how the assorted district lines shake out to determine if his next target will be Congress, another legislative office or local office. Legislative colleagues may complain about Fasano's affinity for publicity and lack of collegial tact, but he makes no apologies.

"A team player is someone that is a team player with their constituents back home and the people of the state of Florida," said the Pasco County Republican, who lost his chairmanship of a criminal justice budget committee because Senate President Mike Haridopolos did not appreciate Fasano's vocal opposition to prison privatization.

Senate leader's spirals

The Florida Senate has been moving more slowly and more clumsily than the Florida House this year, but Senate President Haridopolos looks like he doesn't have a care in the world. The Merritt Island Republican has been ducking out of his Capitol office some afternoons to toss a football on the lawn outside the Senate Office Building. Last week, the Senate president's catching partner was Chris Moya, who lobbies for charter schools, the Seminole Tribe and other clients. More recently, the Senate president was been spotted doing it again.

As frenzied Senate staffers simultaneously answered phone calls and emails, checked the status of bills and amendments, greeted visitors, monitored House floor action and glanced at news blogs, Haridopolos was tossing spirals again on Wednesday to the Senate's budget chief (and his session roommate), Sen. JD Alexander.

'Hanging' talk offends

Incoming state Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, had a curious way of dismissing opponents of the Senate's redistricting process.

"We were told by individuals who testified on behalf of special interest groups — I'm sorry, nonpartisan groups — that we would be sued no matter what the lines were, no matter how the districts were drawn," Gaetz said. "My father used to say some people would complain if you hung them with a new rope. And we have people who all along had a lawsuit strategy and hope that somehow they could find some judge somewhere who will agree with their contentions."

Hung them with a new rope?

"This statement is highly offensive to me," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. "The use of his analogy reflects back on an extremely violent period in our country's and our state's history. And it shows an insensitivity on the part of the senator about the hard-fought passage of blacks from slaves to citizens."

Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation, the Democrats' point person on redistricting in the House, and Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, the Legislative Black Caucus chairwoman, also issued releases criticizing Gaetz. But Joyner's statement was the most biting.

Gaetz told the Times/Herald his dad's colloquialism was about hangings, but not in the context of lynchings alluded to by the black legislators. He said he meant no harm.

"I come from cowboy country in the Upper Midwest, where horse thieves were viewed as a low form of life, and stealing a person's horse 150 years ago in my home country was almost a capital offense," Gaetz said. "It was in that context that my father made the comment."

Tia Mitchell and Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz. Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@tampabay.com.

Winner

of the week

Kathy Castor. The Tampa congresswoman's district is so heavily Democratic she never looked to be in serious trouble. Still, Republican Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe would have made it interesting, and his decision to scrap his campaign means Castor won't even have to break a sweat winning a third term.

Loser

of the week

Jim Norman. He averted criminal prosecution, but the ethics cloud hanging over state Sen. Norman, R-Tampa, isn't going away. The Florida Commission on Ethics last week found probable cause that Norman failed to disclose that Ralph Hughes, the late Hillsborough conservative activist, gave his wife a $500,000 gift used to buy a lakefront home in Arkansas.

Fasano popular with constituents, but not with fellow Republicans 02/11/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 11, 2012 7:45pm]
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