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Candidates' issues: experience, trust // STATE LEGISLATURE DEBATE

The Pasco Times continues its series of political debates with the transcript of last week's face-off between Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Fasano and Democratic challenger Brian Prescott. Fasano, 38, has served two years in the Legislature and is a stockbroker at Dean Witter Reynolds. Prescott, 27, is former Pasco County sheriff's deputy and school resource officer at River Ridge High School. The candidates asked each other three questions, in alternating order. Answers were limited to two minutes, followed with 30-second rebuttals.


FASANO: Brian, Pasco County has been devastated by overpumping of its water resources. During the '96 session of the Florida Legislature, a combination of legislation introduced was presented to the governor for his approval. The legislation of this important issue of consumptive-use permitting.

Please explain this legislation and whether you believe this is the best way for the Tampa Bay area to handle its anticipated future growth and water needs.


PRESCOTT: Michael, I don't have all the details of that legislation. As you know, there's over 3,000 bills filed every year.

Water and our environment are very important issues to me. I remember as a teen swimming and fishing in Crews Lake. Suddenly, that lake is now all but dried up.

As a deputy sheriff assigned to Dade City and Land O'Lakes, I had numerous occasions to investigate environmental crimes such as people dumping waste oil in the woods, which could damage our water supply and hurt our children's futures.

So I believe I am qualified to say that the 7-foot-wide pipe pumping our water into Pinellas County is having a tremendous effect on our lakes and streams. We have a finite amount of water and an infinite demand. We need to continue working with our neighbors to the south to ensure there is fresh, clean water for the next generation.

At some point, we're going to have to take a serious look at desalination and its cost effectiveness. There may come a time when we have no choice.

One thing people can count on is that I will not put politics above people, and they can trust that I will not cave in and let them down.


FASANO: Brian, one of the most important aspects of this legislation, which happened to be House Bill 2385, which was passed by both the Florida House and Florida Senate, is that the Southwest Florida Management District is directed to identify the minimum flows and levels of surfaces, water sources, aquifers and surface water in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

The flows and levels we based in part upon the importance of the waters to the state or region and the existence of or potential significant harm to the water resources for ecology of the state or region. Waters, which are, or may, experience adverse impact will also be identified.

While this legislation does not solve all the problems facing Pasco County, it is certainly a good foundation upon which the legislation can be built.


PRESCOTT: Michael, trust is at the core of public service. The citizens of this county elect people based on the issues and based on trust. Do you feel a person should be re-elected once that trust is broken?


FASANO: I believe that any responsible legislator should be as trusting to the constituents that he represents. I believe that my record is clear on that.

When I was first elected, and even when I campaigned, I promised on issues of bringing down crime, which we have for the first time in over a decade, and taking care of the welfare system, which we have for the first time in many years, in revamping the welfare system to put people back to work, educate them and train them and make them responsible citizens, responsible not only for themselves but for their families.

As a legislator, I have instituted one of the best constituent service programs throughout the state _ in fact, second to none throughout the state, by having over 20 town meetings, by creating Citizen Advisory Task Forces, that advise to me on bills that are coming before us, both in the committee and on the House floor. I also implemented a toll-free number so every citizen throughout this county and throughout the state is able to contact their legislator.

You know, Brian, when I first got elected, I soon found out that one of the first priorities of mine was constituent service, and I believe that being a representative of all the people should and will continue to be a priority of mine.


PRESCOTT: Mike, I have here three brochures in which you promised unequivocally in 1994 to never raise taxes, and you promised in this one to open up full-time district offices in west Pasco, Land O'Lakes, Dade City and Holiday. You've broken all those promises.

The first time you voted for a tax increase, you broke your word in the public trust. The 40th time you voted for a tax increase, you shattered that trust. Tax after tax on everyone from mobile home owners to fishermen.

It's a matter of trust, Michael. You've lost that trust.


FASANO: Brian, can you explain the Mechanic Lien Law and whether you support the Mechanic Lien Law or not, and why would you support it?

And if you would like to change the Mechanic Lien Law, how would you like to have it changed?


PRESCOTT: Michael, I'm not fully aware of all the details concerning that. There were over 3,000 bills filed this year. Neither you nor I know every one of them.

What I do know about is bills such as Senate Bill 625, in which you gave a $60-million tax break to special interests. Or House Bill 2715, where you slashed $420-million in social services. I cannot forget House Bill 2237, where you voted against enacting stricter standards of care in nursing homes, protecting seniors from abuse. Or House Bill 839, which deals with the issue you speak about in this question, where you voted against cracking down on unscrupulous used-car dealers who victimized senior citizens.

Maybe that's why the Miami Herald ranked you near bottom in effectiveness in 1995 and in the bottom half in 1996. It's a matter of trust. You've lost that trust.


FASANO: Brian, apparently, you don't know what the Mechanic Lien Law is. It has nothing to do with used cars.

Mechanic Lien Law, which I successfully merged my home buyers protection act with Senate Bill 2186 to require that upon the request of a home buyer _ the contractor must supply within 10 days a complete list of all subcontractors and suppliers that have participated in the construction of a home.

We have seen unscrupulous home builders take enormous amounts of money from unsuspecting home buyers and leave them with half-built homes. Mechanic Lien Law allows those subcontractors to place a lien on the home buyer's property, to recoup the money they may not have been paid by the builder. The poor consumer is then forced to pay twice for the work that may not even be completed.

I support the repeal of Mechanic Lien Law.


PRESCOTT: Michael, as a deputy sheriff for the past seven years, I have unique insight into the needs of today's children as well as the senior citizens. That's why I've been endorsed and trusted by the Florida Sheriff's Association, every education association and the National Council of Senior Citizens.

Can you honestly say you're looking out for the needs of children and senior citizens?


FASANO: Absolutely, Brian. I helped bring to Pasco County Community College (sic) the largest increase of any community college in Florida. I also am bringing in over $1-million to expand the services provided by the Marchman Vocational Center.

As a member of the Florida House of Education, I worked on legislation that would have increased the minimum grade point average from 1.5 to 2.0 for graduation, also requiring students to take algebra as a required course for graduation, revise the grade point scale upwards. This measure was vetoed by the governor. I am happy to announce that the Florida Cabinet has encouraged that local school boards adopt many of the provisions I have already indicated. Pasco County is one of the school boards that has done so.

I was appointed to the statewide task force created by the education commissioner, Frank Brogan, to strengthen the standards of conduct for all Florida teachers. Each and every student in Pasco County has benefited from the tightened standard expected of public schools.

I fought for a lottery accountability bill, which would require that lottery money be used for only education enhancement. I also fought for legislation that gives teachers more authority to maintain discipline and remove disruptive students. I also fought for legislation requiring background checks on teachers to ensure our children are safe.

Along with that, I fought for and passed legislation that increased graduation requirements, as I said before, to prepare our high school seniors for the work force.

And finally, Brian, I worked in passing legislation that would give more local control and more parental involvement in our children's education. For our senior citizens, as you know, I worked in bringing a veterans state-owned and operated nursing home to the state, and hopefully next week, the Cabinet will approve it to come here to Pasco County to serve our senior citizens along with our veterans.


PRESCOTT: Michael, the bill about which you speak as vetoed by the governor is when your party tacked on the prayer-in-school bill. You've destroyed the trust of the children and senior citizens.

Under your watch, Pasco fell to 65th of 67 counties in education funding. You voted against reducing class sizes in House Bill 1867. Voted against your marking a bigger percentage of the budget toward K through 12 in House Bill 713, and you voted against protecting senior citizens in nursing homes from abuse in House Bill 2237.

It's a matter of trust, Michael. You've lost that trust. You voted to slash social services spending by $420-million, affecting senior citizens and kids, while giving over $60-million in tax breaks to your friends in the gambling industry who paid you back dearly.


FASANO: Brian, you have received thousands of dollars from educational unions. Florida Education Commissioner Frank Brogan recently stated that it takes approximately two years and $20,000 of taxpayer dollars to remove a tenured teacher who is clearly incompetent. Realizing this potential, Brian, do you support teacher tenure?


PRESCOTT: Michael, it's sad to see you attacking such a noble profession as teaching. They give so much and get so little in return. I guess you're bitter that the Florida Education Association rated you 112th out of 120 legislators on education issues concerning children.

Florida's education money is 30th in the nation, even though we're the fourth largest state. Our children deserve the best education possible. To provide this education, we need to recruit and retain the best teachers possible. To accomplish this, we need to provide job security for our teachers and their families after three years of competent service.

Teachers' tenure does not mean an incompetent teacher cannot be fired. Rather, it affords teachers basic security so they can make long-term investments and buy homes like the rest of us.

I want to publicly thank every employee of the District School Board of Pasco County for the commitment they've made to improving the future.

Michael, I've worked the past three years assigned to River Ridge Middle High School as a school resource officer. I've worked closely with teachers when I started the area's first gang prevention program and the Students Against Drunk Driving Club and the at-risk summer youth program at Pasco Middle School. I've seen the problems facing education today, and I know how to solve them.

That's why I will expand alternative education to remove disruptive students from the classroom, and I'll fight for a smaller teacher-student ratio.

In House Bill 1867, you voted against the Florida maximum class size goals act. Michael, before you judge teachers, walk a mile in their shoes. Volunteer at a school and don't just visit a school for a photo opportunity. Maybe then, you will regain the trust of education.

It's a matter of trust. You've lost their trust.


FASANO: Brian, go visit the pre-K program. Ask the teachers how many times I have visited there.

Once again, you refuse to answer the question. Brian, it is clear that the teacher tenure system in Florida just as in other states is flawed. Approximately 18 states are looking into ending tenure. Most of our teachers are hard working, successful professionals who deserve praise, but a few incompetent teachers give the profession a black eye.

I supported limited teacher contract of three to five years in duration with no mandatory renewals. Essentially, new contracts will be given to those who are assessed competent to teach. The assessment process conclude that teachers themselves, should include parental input in some level.

What other profession in the United States is guaranteed a permanent job? This is clearly the point that even President Clinton made during this year's Democratic National Convention.


PRESCOTT: Michael, my father died when I was 14 years old. Realizing the importance of education about which you speak, I stayed in school and worked a job at night to help my mom. I became a police officer where I received over 20 commendations, was awarded a Meritorious Service Award for outstanding accomplishment and was named one of Florida's best school resource officers. While working full time, I graduated from college, straight As, highest honors.

Do you believe education and employment history are important issues in deciding for whom to vote?


FASANO: I think experience is important, Brian, and I have that experience, something that I believe you lack. I have the experience of going up there and passing legislation that's going to help our seniors, help our children and help our veterans, which I have demonstrated for the past two years. I have the best voting record for those three groups of people throughout this state.

Brian, my dad died when I was 15 years old, and I had to drop out of school to support my mom, as you know. I lived in Pasco County. At that point in my life, I began to seek advise from seniors in my neighborhood. The advice they gave me reinforced my core values.

Because of their advice and encouragement, today I'm an associate vice president of Dean Witter Reynolds.

This is why I will always be a fighter for the senior citizens. I fought for stiffer penalties for those who victimize the elderly. I worked with my colleagues to make certain that our seniors have more rights with their health care benefits. I passed laws that protect seniors' life savings from fraudulent businesses.


PRESCOTT: Mike, let's look at the facts. You have no college degree, or as you agreed, no high school diploma. You were fired from the St. Pete Times for reasons you refuse to disclose. You were forced to quit the lottery job after two months for mixing politics and business.

When you became a stockbroker at Dean Witter Reynolds, you again mixed politics by arranging $140-million investment of taxpayer money that was never approved by the County Commission. Some of the investment violated Florida law.

Time after time, you've put politics above people. It's a matter of trust, Michael. The people have lost trust in you and your political schemes.