Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, has emerged as a leading candidate to replace Mike Olson, the long-time Pasco County tax collector who died last week.
Olson's death after 32 years in office requires Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a successor through the 2014 election. Scott is running for re-election, and Pasco is an important mid-sized county in statewide elections.
Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, has had conversations with several Pasco legislators, including House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who said Friday that Fasano is an ideal candidate for the job with his reputation for responsiveness to his constituents.
"I think he would run the office in a very constituent-oriented manner. I think he would do a good job," said Weatherford, who has spoken directly to Scott about the vacancy. "I feel strongly that Mike Fasano should be and will be included in the final deliberations."
Fasano wants the job, which pays nearly $138,000 a year.
"I have spoken with Adam Hollingsworth and I have told him I'm interested," he said. Besides Weatherford, Sen. Wilton Simpson and Rep. Richard Corcoran also have weighed in with Scott or his people on the prospects of a Fasano appointment. Hollingsworth could not be reached Friday, but a spokeswoman for Scott, Melissa Sellers, confirmed those phone conversations between Scott and local lawmakers.
Fasano is a very popular local political figure, but at first glance seems an unlikely choice because he's no fan of Scott. He has been unsparing in his criticism of Scott on a range of issues, once observing that any other politician with Scott's weak poll numbers would not consider running for a second term. In a February Times/Herald story, Fasano described Scott as "hanging by a thread" politically.
Viewed another way, however, appointing Fasano would allow Scott to rid the Capitol of one of his toughest critics. It's no secret that Weatherford wasn't enamored by the return of Fasano, who blasted the speaker for choosing a pro-industry lawmaker to chair the critical House Insurance Committee.
Fasano also has made clear to Scott aides that he is likely to run for the post, which means if Scott were to appoint someone else, that person would have their hands full with Fasano as an opponent. It also makes sense that despite his outspoken nature, Fasano may be less inclined as a Scott appointee to blast away at him next year in the heat of the governor's race.
Fasano, 55, returned to the House last year after a decade in the Senate and eight years before that in the House. He has a reputation for being highly attentive to his constituents' needs, and the job of tax collector is chiefly a customer service job. The countywide post comes with a solid six-figure salary, but Fasano said that would not improve his pension benefits because he opted to invest in a defined contribution plan rather than the Florida Retirement System.
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By law, Fasano would have to resign from the House to become tax collector. If he were appointed, Scott would have to then call a special election for Fasano's District 36 House seat.
In his legislative office Friday, Fasano was reading constituents' emails -— much of it, as always, about property insurance. He said he felt as though he would be letting people down if he left the Legislature. "I just don't want to disappoint them," he said.
Fasano's appointment as county tax collector would also likely eliminate any chance that he would challenge in a GOP primary for the state Senate in 2014. That possibility has been discussed in Tallahassee in the context of creating future alliances for the Senate presidency.