Tom Jackson: In Pasco, all roads lead to Mike Fasano

Mike FasanoWhatever else we might be tempted to say in the aftermath of last month’s recent primary election, for those who live and/or work in Pasco County, this, above all, is beyond dispute:

Pasco is Mike Fasano’s county. Everyone else is just visiting.

Who but Fasano, the nudging, empathetic, perpetually beatifying champion of the “little guy and little gal” could have done in the Republican race for Pasco County property appraiser what he did with the fundamentally flawed Gary Joiner?

That is, Fasano — officially Pasco County’s tax collector but, increasingly, its kingmaker — took his operations chief, a career bureaucrat whose best-known qualities were philandering, creepiness, dishonesty, and opportunism and created the impression that the virtuous candidate in the GOP primary was not San Antonio’s Ted Schrader, the reasonably well-regarded and accomplished four-term county commissioner, but his guy.

That’s right. The fellow who carried on a workplace affair with a subordinate in 2009, lied about it, attempted to rekindle the romance in 2013 and 2014, got suspended when he was found out and, as a condition of his reinstatement, can no longer be alone with female colleagues — that is the guy local Republicans preferred in an 11-point landslide over Schrader, who was effectively portrayed as Pasco’s own Lyin’ Ted.

To be sure, Joiner benefited from the endorsement of popular Sheriff Chris Nocco, as well as from tens of thousands of dollars in nonstop advertising diverted from the electioneering committee of state House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran — looking for some payback after Schrader helped choke off his intriguing charter-county plan last year — but it was Fasano, famous for wishing God’s blessing on all he meets, who chiefly midwifed his lieutenant’s campaign.

And it’s not like Schrader, who comes from an influential family of developers, business operators, and citrus growers, was out there flailing alone. His backers included a who’s who of the area Republican firmament: former state House Speaker Will Weatherford, likely future state Senate President Wilton Simpson, state Rep. Danny Burgess, schools Superintendent Kurt Browning and even Fasano’s longtime pal, state Sen. Jack Latvala, whose district includes part of West Pasco.

Looking back, with voters in a throw-’em-out mood, maybe all that establishment worked against Schrader.

Even so, rehabilitating Joiner — or, worse, making voters not care about his indiscretions — is an achievement so breathtaking, if Fasano’s next act were to cause white tigers and hippos to fly in formation the length of State Road 54 from New Port Richey to Zephyrhills, no one would raise an eyebrow.

And he did it all while conveniently removing a potential rival from challenging his future re-election plans. You could look it up.

Joiner made plain his preference would be to run for tax collector while acknowledging that, with Fasano ensconced, that door seemed firmly shut. Now a potential problem — a younger man with ambition — has been positioned, if he subdues little-known Dade City Democrat and real estate broker Jon Sidney Larkin in November, to run a new agency and while being converted into an indebted ally. You don’t get that sort of twofer every election cycle.

Beyond its lopsided margin, what is particularly remarkable about Joiner’s primary triumph is its geographic scope.

You would expect a New Port Richey resident backed by prominent west-county policymakers to do well in his backyard, and Joiner did. A Pasco County supervisor of elections map showing a precinct-by-precinct breakdown indicates a Joiner wave stretching virtually uninterrupted from the Gulf of Mexico to U.S. 41/Land O’ Lakes Boulevard.

But what happened on the other side that reveals, startlingly, the tale of Fasano’s influence. I mean, we’d seen evidence of his considerable sway on the broad county’s west side, when his appointment as tax collector, in June 2013, to succeed the late Mike Olson — the last Democrat to hold countywide office — triggered a special election for his seat in the Florida House.

Fasano’s divorce from Tallahassee was mutually satisfying. He’d been eyeing a constitutional office opportunity back home, and both Gov. Rick Scott and House GOP leadership were weary of his ever-increasing maverick status. But in a delicious episode of being careful of what you wish for, Fasano leaped over party lines to support Democrat Amanda Murphy, who narrowly defeated Corcoran’s choice, former Florida Gator defensive tackle Bill Gunter.

The question in the property assessor’s race was whether the Commutative Property of Fasano would play in the East. Come Election Day, the answer rocked Pasco’s political Richter scale.

In the end, Schrader’s support scarcely extended beyond his home base, the mostly rural northeast quadrant of the county. With exceptions in just a few master-planned villages where newcomers gather, fast-growing Wesley Chapel in the heart of the county rejected Schrader almost entirely. And, cutting Schrader off on his southeastern flank, Joiner dominated in Zephyrhills.

How bad was it?

While Joiner hopscotched around the county, Schrader spent Election Day in The Groves, an over-55 golf and country club community in North Land O’ Lakes that’s also GOP-rich territory.

Nearly 900 votes were cast there, but despite his daylong presence, Schrader lost by 11 votes, a metaphor for the election if there ever was one.

It would be nice to give more credit to the winning candidate himself, but as Joiner himself said, if it weren’t for Nocco, Corcoran and Fasano, he’d have gone nowhere.

I’d say he’s absolutely correct, especially the part about Fasano, who showed himself a shifter of landscapes.

Now we know. It’s his county, after all.

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Personnel note: Kathy Mears heading to FSU

mears-kathy-largeKathy Mears, who served as chief of staff to two consecutive Florida House speakers, will become the new top in-house lobbyist for Florida State University.

Mears, who confirmed her hiring Monday, said she will take the new role of chief legislative affairs officer. She starts Sept. 19.

Mears was chief of staff to Republican House Speakers Will Weatherford (2012-14) and Steve Crisafulli (2014-16).

At FSU, she will report to President John Thrasher, another former state lawmaker.

It’s a homecoming for Mears, who got both her undergraduate degree and master’s in public administration from FSU.

Mears also has been a top advisor to former Senate Presidents Ken Pruitt and Tom Lee, and was deputy chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. 

She also served as campaign communications director to Congressman Daniel Webster and was a vice president at On 3 Public Relations in Tallahassee.

“Kathy’s passion for public policy and academia makes her the perfect choice for President Thrasher and FSU,” said Christina Johnson, the firm’s president. “I am thrilled for her as she continues to achieve incredible milestones throughout her professional career.”

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Republican Senate leaders raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in run up to primary elections

Top Senate Republicans raised brought in big hauls through their political committees over the past two weeks according to newly filed finance reports.

Between Aug. 13 and Aug. 25, Fort Meyers Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto brought in $142,500 through her “Protect Florida Families” committee, including $50,000 checks from Trilby Sen. Wilton Simpson’s “Jobs for Florida” committee and Sen. Bill Galvano’s “Innovate Florida” committee.

Benacquisto’s PAC contributed $200,000 of its balance to “Truth Matters Inc.,” the committee behind ads attacking her primary opponent Jason Maughan in the SD 27 race, leaving Protect Florida Families with about $166,000 on hand.

Simpson’s committee also broke the six-figure mark with $185,500 in contributions during the two-week reporting period. Among his donors were the Associated Industries of Florida, which gave $130,000, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which gave $35,000.

The future Senate President had about $771,000 on hand in his committee Aug. 25, while Senate Majority Leader and fellow future Senate President Bill Galvano had about $885,000 in the bank.

The $132,500 in contributions on Galvano’s report came in through 21 checks, including two from Disney that combined to $35,000. MCNA Health Care Holdings chipped in $25,000, while lobbyist Ron Book gave $10,000.

Incoming Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala bested them all with $207,750 in contributions to his “Florida Leadership Committee.” The Clearwater Republican’s top donor was 2022-2024 House Speaker hopeful Randy Fine, who gave $36,000 through his committee, “Foundation for our Children’s Future.” Former House Speaker Will Weatherford’s PAC, “Committee for a Stronger Florida,” also chipped in $25,000.

FLC finished the reporting period with a little over $2 million on hand.

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Will Weatherford the latest Republican to join the #NeverTrump camp?

The league of Republicans against Donald Trump may have found another member in Will Weatherford.

The former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, a Wesley Chapel Republican, suggested in a text message today that the real estate tycoon-turned-reality TV star won’t get his vote.

“Sadly, I find both candidates to be unworthy of the office of President,” he wrote, also referring to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

When asked to clarify his position on the GOP’s presidential pick, Weatherford responded: “Would I vote for someone who is unworthy and unfit for the office?”

Weatherford, who now runs the Weatherford Partners venture capital group with his two brothers, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call.

He left the House in 2014 after serving his last two years as Speaker.

In a September 2014 interview with the Tampa Tribune, Weatherford said he would “definitely never rule out” a return to elected office but added he was going to “enjoy family life and focus on the private sector more.”

But his counterpart, then-Senate President Don Gaetz, called the 36-year-old “the future of Florida,” saying he expected “to host a fundraiser for Will Weatherford for governor or U.S. senator sometime in the next five years.”

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37% of likely Florida GOP primary voters back Mike Huckabee for governor in 2018

It’s never too early to think about the next election, and a new poll from St. Pete Polls has Floridians doing just that.

According to the survey, 54 percent of likely Republican primary voters said Gov. Rick Scott would make a good U.S. Senator. The survey found 16 percent of respondents said they were unsure, while 30 percent said he wouldn’t be a good senator.

Scott can’t run for re-election again in 2018 because of term limits. While he’s been mum on his future political plans, many Florida insiders believe he is gearing up to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

Scott’s political committee — Let’s Get to Work — continues to raise money, raising nearly $1.9 million in the first seven months of 2016. He’s also become the chair of a pro-Donald Trump super PAC, giving a larger presence on the national stage.

With Scott vacating the Governor’s Mansion in a few years, speculation has already begun about who will replace the Naples Republican come 2018.

While Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is widely believed to be gearing up for a 2018 gubernatorial run, other possible contenders include CFO Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran, and Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a Florida resident.

When it comes to the governor’s race, 37 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they would vote for Huckabee; while 26 percent stated that they would pick Bondi. Nearly 8 percent of voters said they would pick Putnam, while nearly 7 percent said they would vote for Atwater.

About 1 percent of voters said they would vote for Corcoran, 3 percent stated that they would pick former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, and less 1 percent said they would vote for former House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Seven percent of voters polled said they would vote for someone else. And with more than two years until the election, 12 percent of respondents said they were unsure who they would vote for.

The survey was conducted Aug. 2 and polled 1,835 likely Republican primary voters through an automated calling system. Voters were chosen at random from the state’s registered voting lists. The margin of error is 2.3 percent.

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Greater Tampa Association of Realtors backing Rebecca Smith in HD 60 race

The Rebecca Smith campaign announced Thursday that the House District 60 Republican has yet another feather in her cap of support, getting the endorsement of the Greater Tampa Association of REALTORS (GTAR).

“With more than three decades of experience in the Tampa Bay area construction industry, GTAR is pleased to endorse Rebecca Smith for the Florida House District 60 seat,” said GTAR President, Andy Scaglionie. “She understands the important role real estate plays to strengthen the local economy and promote home ownership to residents across the Bay area.”

“I’m overwhelmed with admiration and humbled by the receipt of the Greater Tampa Association of REALTORS’ endorsement for the Republican District 60 race,” said Smith. “I look forward to listening to and working with the association throughout this race and beyond to ensure the interest of District 60 residents are represented not only locally, but also in Florida’s capital.”

Smith, the founder and president of A.D. Morgan Corporation in Tampa, is running against Jackie Toledo, a Tampa civil engineer and entrepreneur in the Aug. 30 GOP primary.

Smith has received the lion’s share of endorsements in the primary, getting the backing of former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and former Florida Governor Bob Martinez. She also decisively won a Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee straw poll against Toledo, 72-28.

Smith has raised more than $329,000 in the race, though more than half of that – $165,000, is money she has loaned to her campaign. Toledo has raised more than $97,000.

The winner of the Republican primary will take on Tampa land use attorney and Democrat David Singer in November.

 

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Personnel note: Kristen McDonald headed to Hill+Knowlton

Kristen McDonald, who’s been communications director for the Florida House Republicans, is heading to Hill+Knowlton Strategies‘ Tallahassee office.

The move was announced Wednesday.

She joins another House staffer now there: H+K vice president Ryan Duffy, who was chief spokesman for former House Speaker Will Weatherford in 2012-14.

McDonald
McDonald

McDonald was communications director for the Office of the Majority Leader in the Florida House of Representatives from 2012-16, serving under three different leaders: state Rep. Steve Precourt, current House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, and current Majority Leader Dana Young.

Before that, McDonald was press secretary for the Republican Party of Florida during the 2012 election cycle, including the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

“By bringing Kristen on board, we are further bolstering Hill+Knowlton’s strong presence in Florida,” said Harry Costello, H+K Florida general manager and executive vice president, in a statement.

“Kristen’s experience in the Florida Legislature and previous work with the Republican Party of Florida broadens our public affairs footprint in the state,” he added.

She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Florida State University.

In 2014, McDonald was named a “30 Under 30 Rising Stars in Florida Politics” in SaintPetersblog.

McDonald joins a public affairs team led by Alia Faraj-Johnson, senior vice president and Florida Public Affairs practice leader.

She also will work with Ron Bartlett, deputy general manager and former public affairs leader; Susan Thurston, senior account executive; and Bob Lotane, senior consultant.

Other hires include Julie Borm, a former health industry communications director, who joins the H+K Florida Health and Corporate Communications practice.

Two new H+K fellows are Trip Farmer, based in Tallahassee, who’ll provide “support for research, media outreach, and legislative issue tracking for public affairs clients,” and Alison Spiegel, based in Tampa, who most recently worked as an intern at Bascom Communications & Consulting in Tallahassee.

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Mitch Perry Report for 6.1.16 – Let the 2018 GOP gubernatorial chatter begin

My colleague Jim Rosica has a piece up this morning entitled, “Did Adam Putnam just launch the first ad of the 2018 gubernatorial campaign.”

Check it out and decide for yourself whether indeed that’s the case. What’s truly not in dispute is that the 41-year-old Agriculture Commissioner has been the guy referred to by seemingly everyone in Florida politics as the likely 2018 GOP gubernatorial candidate.

Such a premise almost assumes that he wouldn’t face any intra-party competition, which, the more you think about it, is just plain silly.

Look at Carlos Beruff. Or Rick Scott. These were folks that nobody was talking about a year before their respective election dates. So we can assume that a potential unknown could challenge Putnam. But how about a “known” Republican, like Will Weatherford?

“I tell people I’m not running towards it, but I’m not running away from it,” Weatherford tells the Tampa Bay Times Steve Bosquet. “I’m really focused on our company and our business. My guess is sometime after the election, I’ll have to make a decision internally.”

So we’ve got at least five more months before Weatherford decides. And let’s face it, the presidential/U.S. Senate/various house and state senate races in Florida will have everybody pretty busy until the fall election.

But if you’re serious about running for governor in a huge state like Florida, you almost have to start plotting things out before this November.

That’s why it wouldn’t be surprising at all to hear that Philip Levine, the very ambitious  Miami Beach Mayor, seems like he’s angling for such a run.

Weatherford is only 36, so it might natural for some folks to say that he’s got plenty of time for his political ambitions. But that’s a fallacy. The longer one is out of the political arena, frankly, unless said candidate is a political superstar, their shelf live expires, as Weatherford notes in his interview.

Jeb Bush was supposed to be such a superstar. It’s easy to say this now, but really, wasn’t 2012 going to be the best year, if any, for the former Florida Governor to run? At that point he would have been out of office for six years, sort of a lifetime. Take four more years, and the dude was seriously rusty on the trail.

However, political realities also interfered. Bush couldn’t have ran in 2012, because his last name was still way too toxic in American culture. Not necessarily fair, but a fact.

Weatherford calls himself a man of ideas – if so, it’d be great to hear him flesh that out and challenge Putnam’s vision for Florida on the Republican side. Then again, we don’t really know what Putnam’s overall governing philosophy might be like as a gubernatorial nominee.

But with this new ad, we might start leaning a little more.

In other news..

Nine months after Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County business officials visited South Dublin on an economic development trip, the mayor of that Ireland town as well as the island nation’s Consul General are paying a return visit this week.

Tampa and St. Petersburg make the top ten list of the best cities in the nation to enjoy a “staycation,” according to WalletHub.com.

Even though most of our congressional districts favor one party strongly over another, thank goodness for the loyal opposition. In Kathy Castor’s strongly Democratic Party leaning 14th Congressional District, Republicans Eddie Adams, Jr. and Christine Quinn are vying to face the incumbent in the fall.

Kevin Beckner gets a labor endorsement in his race for the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Courts.

Bob Buckhorn says “something is better than nothing,” and will reluctantly support a sales tax referendum of a much shorter duration than he prefers, it County Commissioners put it on the November ballot next week.

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George P. Bush to visit Tampa April 12 for fundraising luncheon

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush will be in Tampa this month at a fundraising luncheon hosted by former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, will appear Tuesday, April 12, at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa. Co-hosting the event, which begins at noon, is A-list lobbyist Slater Bayliss of Cardenas Partners.

Although his father recently ended a presidential bid, the grandson of George H.W. Bush and the nephew of George W. Bush is expected to continue making his mark on both the Lone Star and national political landscapes. Before his election in 2014 as Texas Land Commissioner, George P. made the most of his political pedigree, starting with a major address for his uncle at the 2000 Republican National Convention.

Rumors abound that the ambitious young Bush will one day run for president.

“Viva George P! Speculation is already growing that Jeb Bush’s eldest son may make a bid for the White House,” The Independent wrote in 2012. That same year, The Atlantic referred to him as “a political dynasty’s young hope.”

Most recently, Bush and his brother, Jeb Bush Jr., co-chaired “Mission: Next,” a committee that tailors events toward Republicans under age 40 with fundraising skills. The group was formed to support their father’s presidential bid.

The Oxford Exchange is at 420 W. Kennedy Blvd. RSVPs with Lavana Harvey at Lavana@WeatherfordPartners.com, Ann Herberger at Ann@WoodsHerbergerGroup.com or (305) 772-4311.

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Mitch Perry Report for 3.16.16 – How does Bernie Sanders move on from here?

We’ll save you our post-mortems about Marco Rubio‘s failed candidacy for the presidency, since you can find them all over the web this morning. We wrote last week how startled we were about the lack of support in his own state, and that was before Alex Leary‘s devastating portrayal in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times

A notable thing about Rubio – his inability to raise a lot of money. Though it’s become chic this year to say that money doesn’t matter as much as it used to (referring to how poorly Jeb Bush did compared to Donald Trump), but Rubio is no Bernie Sanders in raising money. And oh yeah, he wasn’t too good at having a basic ground game to gather up votes.

Now, what about the Dems?

Boy, it was a rough night for Bernie Sanders supporters here in Florida. The polls were modest, actually, in comparison to what actually happened last night, as Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton by 32 percentage points.

So is Bernie So Over Now?

His strategists say that the calendar looks more favorable to him.

“We’re now entering a period where we think we’ll win most if not all of the contests before the April 19 primary in New York,” said Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Sanders. “Regardless of how much momentum we have after Tuesday, the calendar is shifting in our favor. Now we just have to win some major showdowns, like in New York and New Jersey, to raise questions about whether she can really win the presidency.”

That’s extremely optimistic.

Will Bernie go negative? Probably not. He’s already had a significant influence on how Clinton is running this race. Can he continue to do so, while still needling her? He’s got the money to stay on the trail for awhile. How does he do it? He’s got to win upcoming states.

Oh, by the way. I’ll never be called a “pundit,” because those folks make sh*t up to fill airtime. I couldn’t believe how some folks were saying yesterday afternoon on cable news how Marco Rubio could still take his delegates with him and continue to campaign, even if he were to lose last night.

WTF? There is a thing called dignity. There is no way that Rubio was going to continue to go out on the stump today in Utah and say … well, what? “We’re going on to Cleveland with little chance of winning, but we’ve got our delegates to maintain to stave off Donald Trump!”

Too many people are being paid too much money to pontificate on TV because of the demands of the medium.

In other news …

Political pros Adam Goodman and Steve Schale break down the election results today at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

Over half a million dollars was spent by a super PAC on Marco Rubio’s behalf over the next couple of weeks.

Donald Trump Florida Chair Joe Gruters says the RPOF will come together in support of Trump later this year.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford isn’t so sure.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor will be joining Barack and Michelle Obama when they travel to Cuba this weekend.

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