There are no particularly strong candidates among the Republicans vying to succeed former Rep. Mike Fasano, the populist who resigned to become Pasco County's tax collector. Two candidates in the Sept. 17 primary for Florida House District 36 lost primaries in 2012, and another is a first-time candidate with little grasp of the issues. The best choice in a weak field is James Mathieu, a former Port Richey city attorney and interim city manager.
Mathieu, 60, is a lawyer/mediator and volunteer board president at a charter school. He possesses a greater knowledge of the education issues confronting Florida than his two opponents, and he departs from the typical House Republican talking points on two key issues. Mathieu supports extension of the state sales tax to Internet purchases, and he favors the accepting federal money to expand Medicaid to cover 1 million uninsured Floridians.
There were concerns about Mathieu's judgment during his time in Port Richey when he agreed to partner with a council member to acquire private residential property — forcing the council member to abstain from voting when Mathieu was hired as fill-in city manager. But there have been no similar judgment issues, and Mathieu's public comments critical of House Speaker Will Weatherford's fuzzy sources of private income demonstrate an awareness of the need for openness.
Bill Gunter, 43, a Presbyterian minister, already is part of the pay-to-play culture in Tallahassee. He has been embraced by House leaders and is receiving plenty of special interest campaign money. Gunter repeats the tired sound bites criticizing tax breaks for ostrich feed and stadium luxury boxes without offering any solutions to fixing Florida's exemption-filled sales tax system. He waffles on most every issue.
Jeremy Harding, 23, works in his family's insurance business. He mimics the platform Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano used to defeat Gunter in their 2012 commission campaign: demonizing private water and sewer utilities and pushing for increased tourism. Voters should choose someone more familiar with the broader issues facing Floridians.
In the special Republican primary for Florida House District 36, the Tampa Bay Times recommends James Mathieu.