If nothing else, you have to appreciate the political gamesmanship of Mike Fasano, state senator for the district including western Pasco and Hernando counties, and now a would-be sheriff's candidate.
For someone who had ambitions to serve in Congress (and likely still does), his latest statement that he would consider running for Pasco sheriff is nothing more than a message to the current sheriff, the retiring Bob White, and one of the presumed front-runners for the gubernatorial appointment to succeed White — newly promoted Maj. Chris Nocco.
Not so fast, gentlemen.
Fasano is known for extracting a political pound of flesh. If you doubt that, then check to see who is sitting in the sheriff's seat in Hernando County. The appointment of former Pasco Sheriff's Col. Al Nienhuis as Hernando sheriff was Fasano's payback to U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent. Fasano, you may recall, was aggravated that U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite hand-picked then-Sheriff Nugent as her successor and didn't announce her retirement until after the candidate filing deadline in spring 2010. It denied Fasano and others an opportunity to run for an open congressional seat. It was a rebuke that Fasano returned when his close pal, Gov. Charlie Crist, appointed Nienhuis over Nugent's favored candidate.
Now the sheriff's vacancy is in Pasco County, where White announced his retirement effective April 30, 18 months before the 2012 election. The remainder of White's term will be filled by a Gov. Rick Scott appointee.
In the past, state patronage appointments in Pasco and Hernando passed through Fasano's focus. That's not the case now since the tea party governor and the term-limited senator don't have a political alliance.
Still, it would be a mistake to ignore Fasano's influence. He remains enormously popular after 16 years as a representative and senator where strong constituent service and bringing home the bacon became the staples of his legislative tenure. Meanwhile, he plays political kingmaker. See the successful elections of state Reps. John Legg and Richard Corcoran, Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano and school superintendent Heather Fiorentino as examples.
If Fasano is feeling particularly charitable this time around, you could argue that he floated his interest in the sheriff's seat to scare away other candidates and to make it easier for Nocco or whomever to run as the Republican nominee next year. Don't bet on it. Besides, two Republicans already have filed candidacy papers to run for sheriff in 2012.
No, this wasn't about benevolence, this was a back-handed swipe at White.
Fasano isn't keen on Scott right now. They've clashed over prison layoffs, high-speed rail and now the governor wants to dismantle a prescription drug-monitoring program, an issue on which Fasano has worked for years. Meanwhile, White is the governor's law enforcement lapdog, heading up Scott's transition team on policing issues.
Fasano most likely wants White to emphasize to the governor how important a monitoring program is to battling a drug abuse epidemic that takes an average of seven lives in Florida every day.
Incidentally, Fasano was just slightly more subtle in poking another Republican colleague, Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, who chairs the House Health and Human Service Committee and is leading the charge there to repeal the drug-monitoring program. The day before Schenck unveiled his proposal last week, Fasano issued a press release under the headline "Senator Mike Fasano expresses great concerns with Representative Schenck's proposed pill mill legislation.''
It's one thing to disagree with a guy's bill, it's another to advance its release by personally calling out another Republican for sponsoring legislation that, in Fasano's words, is "especially harmful to people of little means.''
Who knew the Fasano proteges would grow up to be their own politicians?
White owes his political career to the senator. Fasano recruited White — an unknown sergeant enforcing alcoholic beverage laws in Clearwater — raised him cash and guided the neophyte candidate to victory in the Republican primaries and an upset victory over a two-term incumbent Democratic sheriff in 2000. Their political tracks didn't diverge until last year's U.S. Senate race when Fasano remained loyal to Crist after he became an independent, and White backed eventual winner, Marco Rubio. At least White said he backed Rubio. The sheriff also allowed his name to be used on invitations to a private fundraiser for Crist, an event White attended. So you could say the sheriff's political convictions are a tad murky.
There is no such ambiguity now when it comes to allegiance to Scott and the plans to hand-pick the next Pasco sheriff.
It's why the senator says he may want to run Pasco's police department.
Mike Fasano as sheriff? No way.
Mike Fasano as the enforcer? Absolutely. The job already has begun.