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Politics aside, union for deputies worth a look

To twist a phrase from U.S. Sen. Connie Mack's successful 1988 Senate campaign against Buddy MacKay, "Hey Mike, you're liberal."

State Rep. Mike Fasano has a conservative reputation, but he hasn't lived up to it lately. Earlier this year he objected to the Southern Baptist Convention's boycott of the Walt Disney Co. for adopting policies in support of homosexual employees. As the man who has appropriately challenged Aloha Utilities Inc., Fasano portrays himself as an advocate for "the little guy" against the power of "big business."

And now he is thinking about introducing a bill to let Pasco County sheriff's deputies unionize.

What next? A party switch?

The truth is that Fasano's politics always have been driven more by pragmatism and opportunism than by ideology and principle. This explains his recent letter to Pasco County Sheriff Lee Cannon, in which Fasano broached the subject of unionizing deputies.

Fasano told Cannon that "numerous deputies have stated their desire to be allowed collective bargaining via membership in the Police Benevolent Association." Because existing law exempts Pasco deputies from collective bargaining, he said, a new bill would be required "to allow deputies the opportunity to voice their opinion on this issue. I am willing to file such a bill, but I would appreciate your opinion on the matter."

Why the sudden interest in unionizing deputies? And why the Police Benevolent Association in particular? Because the PBA endorsed Fasano last year in his re-election run against Democratic challenger Brian Prescott (a Pasco County deputy), and especially because the PBA contributed $1,500 to his campaign.

The same day a story about all of this appeared on the front page of the Pasco Times, Fasano called this newspaper to say he made a "stupid mistake" by naming the PBA in his letter. All he really intended, said Fasano, was to ask Cannon what he thinks of allowing deputies to organize under any union.

Fasano has always had a knack for spin control, but he is reaching on this one.

Politics aside, unionizing deputies, or at least letting them decide for themselves whether to unionize, is an idea that has some merit. Deputies are already protected from arbitrary personnel actions, but a union might help the Sheriff's Office in its annual budget negotiations with county commissioners. A union also might give Cannon an ally in his effort to establish a special taxing district for law enforcement in Pasco. Cannon might consider that before he answers Fasano.