Same old politics still reign in new Pasco elections

Published Jul. 21, 2012

Three nights of political debates this week revealed these alarming truths:

• Pasco County is run by the "good ol' boy network.''

• The "founding fathers'' didn't intend for Americans to be career politicians.

• Government budgets are full of fat.

• Morale is poor at the sheriff's office.

Sound familiar? Like maybe the alarming truths of the last several elections?

With the exception of the races for sheriff and school superintendent, the turnout for these debates made the auditorium at the New Port Richey campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College seem cavernous. Few undecided voters bothered to show up to listen to candidates for the Legislature, County Commission, School Board or property appraiser.

Once upon a time, Democrats would have been included. The two-party system in Pasco is all but dead, unless you count the Republicans as conservative and ultraconservative.

The underdogs at the debates didn't seem worried about how that weakens government. Instead they invoked the founders, insisting that new blood and new ideas trumps experience. Only one problem: The ideas were hardly new, many spinning right off the tea party manifest.

Mike Fasano might have used the same tack himself before multiple terms in the state House and Senate. Now that he's term-limited from the senior chamber, he wants to go back to the House. One of his opponents attacked him as the king of the local good ol' boys. Fasano didn't respond, which in itself was a response: "Yeah, so what's your point?"

In Pasco County, he can swing an election. Sometimes it seems like he just enjoys the game, like when he helped retire Lee Cannon as sheriff.

Fasano started his political career as a dirty tricks artist, but over the years he has undergone a remarkable transition.

The man once assigned to keep Republican legislators in lockstep now deserves his reputation for bucking the leadership if the cause is right (see prisons, privatization).

No politician works harder for constituents or is more accessible. The only question in this election — and one that he no doubt wonders himself — is whether stepping down to the House will satisfy his ego and ambition.

At the debates, as all candidates confidently predicted "Obamacare'' will disappear after the November election, Fasano was the only one to declare that some other social program must be ready to serve people who can't afford medical care.

He means it and has a track record of helping to deliver such services to this county. He is equally passionate about fighting insurance companies who want to cherry pick but not provide affordable property protection.

The new ideas argument for election also broke down in the property appraiser's race as Mike Wells demonstrated

his usual command persona and a record for efficiency. Even his opponent, a young appraiser named Walter Price, had to admit Wells runs a tight ship.

Veteran County Commissioner Ted Schrader was easily the most informed and articulate candidate in his race. And close behind was Joanne Hurley, a dynamic, involved School Board member who came to the debate fresh despite sitting in a lawyer-filled hearing the previous eight hours.

Kurt Browning and Heather Fiorentino managed to get their points across despite a third candidate on stage that even fringe would call fringe. Give Browning the edge, largely on style and personality but also because he was one heck of a supervisor of elections and secretary of state. Change for the sake of change is silly, but this is a man who can breathe new life into a district that is sagging and divided.

And sheriff? Maurice Radford proved a forceful attacker, but incumbent Chris Nocco sure seems like the real deal.

One last observation: PHCC could hang meat in that auditorium. Even the hottest debate couldn't compete with that frigid air conditioner.