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For Adam Hasner, past doesn't always match campaign trail pitch

Adam Hasner is branding himself in Florida's Republican U.S. Senate primary as the perfect trifecta: an anti-establishment, principled conservative who was among the first to confront Charlie Crist's moderate ways.

Yet a review of Hasner's record as a state legislator reveals a more nuanced record than the staunch conservative who now urges "no compromise" in Washington over the debt talks.

Hasner was the consummate Republican insider — down to his red white and blue boots made from elephant skin —who served eight years in the House, four as majority leader.

While he has criticized better-funded Senate rivals of raking in special interest money, Hasner raised $2.7 million himself for his House campaigns and three separate fundraising committees he controlled. About a fifth of the money came from Tallahassee, where lobbyists and consultants seek to influence state lawmakers.

Once called the "most partisan Republican in Tallahassee," by Marco Rubio, Hasner waged battles against labor unions and led the charge in 2009 to reject $444 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment compensation, saying it hurt businesses and created new entitlements.

But Hasner also supported a watered-down climate-change law that the Legislature now wants to repeal. And he voted for a budget with $2.2 billion in tax and fee increases and billions more in federal stimulus money. He also favored high-speed rail and SunRail, which tea party activists came to abhor.

Though he fought Crist at times, Hasner also boasted of working with the governor on the federal stimulus program.

"Despite claims to the contrary, Gov. Crist and the Florida Legislature are working together and are still awaiting details and answers from the Obama administration about the conditions of the necessary federal waiver for education stimulus dollars," Hasner wrote in a March 23, 2009, statement to refute news reports that a rift between Republicans and their governor would endanger education funding.

As his campaign gains momentum, Hasner's past and present profile is drawing more scrutiny — and criticism.

"One person I will not support in this race is Adam Hasner," said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who dropped out of the Senate race last week. "I think what he has talked about on the campaign trail versus his record as a legislator would diminish the chances of Republicans winning in November 2012."

Haridopolos singled out Hasner's criticism of his failure to get an illegal immigration background check known as E-Verify passed in this year's legislative session.

"He had an opportunity for 8 years to get something done on illegal immigration," Haridopolos said of his one-time friend, who left the House in 2010 due to term limits. Hasner did co-sponsor an E-Verify bill in his final year and it passed the House but died in the Senate.

"How do you quote a shrug?" Hasner spokesman Douglass Mayer said. "Adam is focused on building on the support he's received from grass-roots conservatives across Florida and the country, and we wish Senate President Haridopolos the best."

•••

The one-time front-runner gone, Hasner, 41, of Delray Beach, still faces three other competitors in the primary, and some Republicans yearn for other candidates to get in the race, worried about the prospects of defeating incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

His strategy has been to rebrand himself as an outsider, much in the way former House Speaker Rubio did in his successful run for U.S. Senate. Hasner has worked to insert Crist, the bête noire of conservatives, into the race.

Crist, who eagerly supported the stimulus, became an effective foil for Rubio, whose own record was more nuanced than he suggested on the campaign trail. Hasner sees an opportunity to draw similar contrasts but also attack a rival, George LeMieux, who was a longtime confidant of Crist's.

Mostly, he's telling voters he'll shake things up.

"A lot of folks within the Republican establishment in Tallahassee, within the party, certainly don't want to see someone like me get into the race," Hasner said during a radio interview in March. "But you know, my message is one that is resonating with the conservative activists. I'm not going to worry about being politically correct."

The grass-roots, tea party activists he is courting — crisscrossing the state in a Toyota Highlander — could provide the spark Hasner needs to jump to the front, much as it did for Rubio.

On the campaign trail, Hasner rails against federal spending and debt and business-as-usual politicians, and warns about radical Islam.

"Adam is hitting the right tones," said Richard Swier, a conservative activist and radio host in Sarasota.

Hasner has picked up endorsements of the Republican group FreedomWorks and other conservative groups and lawmakers. He scored favorably with conservative groups while in the House, though the Christian Coalition in 2007 gave him an F for voting to expand gaming.

Tea party activists are skeptical of establishment politicians. While he now accuses his opponents of raking in special interest money, Hasner was a prolific fundraiser.

He controlled not one but three political committees outside his regular campaign account, raking in more than $390,000 from an array of interests trying to influence the agenda in the state Capitol. Hours before the 2009 legislative session began, Hasner collected $48,700. His biggest contributor was health care giant HCA, which doled out three checks totalling $57,500.

In his final election in 2008, Hasner became the first House member to raise $1 million, an eye popping number for any candidate, let alone one with token Democratic opposition. The money came from dozens of constituents but also an array of lobbyists, health care companies, telecommunication giants, insurers and developers.

Legislative political committees have long been a source of controversy as they allow legislators to take in unlimited funds with the stated purpose of supporting a cause or other candidates. Some have treated them as slush funds, dining on expensive meals, paying for travel and high-priced consultants.

Hasner said he formed Florida On The Move I, II and III so he could support like-minded Republicans and give them triple the $500 contribution limit. Records show he wrote checks to scores of lawmakers.

Roughly half of the $360,000 he spent — $182,000 —went to pay for three committee employees as well as Hasner, who was reimbursed $33,000 for travel, meals and other expenses related to the fundraising.

"There is nothing to hide," he said in a recent interview. "Everything has been disclosed and everything followed the law to a T."

•••

Hasner makes relatively little mention of his time in the House, save the two years when he was Rubio's "hand-picked" Republican leader.

Together, the two helped shape a cap-and-trade-style legislation to counteract a global warming plan of Crist's. But, unlike their successors in the Legislature this year, neither Rubio nor Hasner actually balked at cap-and-trade legislation outright.

After Rubio left, Hasner continued serving as majority leader in 2009 when he had to back leadership and vote for the budget packed with stimulus money and new taxes and fees. Crist wanted the money in the budget.

Hasner, who advocated against a $1 per pack cigarette tax increase, did warn that the stimulus money was no "silver bullet" and wasn't to be taken lightly.

"The Florida House is carefully examining the specifics of the stimulus plan and making sure that we do not create a situation which is not in Florida's long-term best interests," he wrote in a new release.

Still, Hasner saw an opportunity to use $500,000 of the stimulus to help people convert their gas guzzlers into electric cars. From the spring through the fall of 2009, Hasner was credited by the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune for working with Crist's energy office to get the program launched.

"This is an important first step in establishing Florida as a national leader in the emerging battery-operated electric-car industry," said Hasner, who used to drive around in a hybrid vehicle. "The rest of the country will be following our lead in this clean tech industry."

In 2010, his last year in office, Hasner again voted for a budget packed with stimulus money, this time $2.6 billion.

Hasner insists he is the same guy today as he was before. "I don't need to reinvent myself as a conservative."

Times staff writer Connie Humburg contributed to this report.

For Adam Hasner, past doesn't always match campaign trail pitch 07/29/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 7:39pm]

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