Despite his actions, Mike Fasano says he’s not leaving the GOP

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Appearing before the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano entertained the centrist-to-liberal audience with his outspoken criticism of the way that business is conducted in Tallahassee, slamming on Governor Rick Scott for failing to speak out against Duke Energy and for Medicaid expansion during the recent gubernatorial election, and decrying the way that GOP rank and file legislators refuse to challenge party leadership. But he said he still believes in his party, though he admits he doesn’t recognize it any longer.

“I believe in less government,” he said when asked why he’s still in the GOP after being so critical about it in recent years. “I believe in giving the person that opportunity” to succeed.

Fasano said he’s not certain about what members of the RPOF establishment think of his apostasy from party doctrine in recent years, and says he doesn’t care. “I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican,” he maintained, paraphrasing Jeb Bush’s comments from last year that the GOP icon (Reagan that is, not Jeb) wouldn’t be welcome in his own party these days, so dramatic has the party shifted to the right. Fasano went on to say that there are Republicans in the Legislature who feel like he does, but don’t dare challenge party leadership, and cites his lone vote amongst House Republicans for Medicaid expansion in 2013 as an example of that intimidation. “

“My colleagues, including myself for 20 years, enjoyed, and enjoy today, much healthcare – for $8 a year in the House, and I think $30 in the Senate. And free dental! No charge for dental. And they laugh about expanding Medicaid, and come up with ‘we can’t take those dollars because it will have an impact in Washington,'” he said, pausing for effect. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

In addition to advocacy against Duke Energy and property insurance companies in recent years in Tallahassee, Fasano supported then independent Senate candidate Charlie Crist in 2010, and Democrats Amanda Murphy and Crist in 2014. That’s led to one perennial critic, Republican State Committeeman Bill Bunting, to tell SaintPetersBlog recently that he’s working to try to have Fasano defeated when he goes before the Pasco voters in 2016 for the first time in his tax collector position. But Fasano’s attitude indicates that he doesn’t fear reprisals in losing that $140,000 job in two years time (a considerable upgrade from the $29,000 he made annually while serving the people in Tallahassee, incidentally).

Fasano served in the Florida House & Senate for nearly 20 years. He was halfway through his most recent return in the House in August of 2013 when Governor Scott chose him to replace Pasco County’s long time tax collector, Mike Olson, who had passed away after serving for more than 30 years in that position. Fasano joked that there were plenty of Republicans who didn’t mind seeing him leave the Legislature, and mentioned his Pasco County colleague Will Weatherford as being one such Republican.

But Fasano wasn’t always the renegade Republican that has made him so popular amongst Democrats and the mainstream media in recent years. He said it wasn’t until he was elected to the Senate in 2008 that he began to understand “the importance of the other side,” as well as the fact that his constituents were becoming increasingly angrier about how they were being treated by Progress (now Duke) Energy and the property insurance industry in Florida that inspired to him to speak out for them, despite the blowback from his GOP colleagues.

Several times in his appearance Fasano displayed real anger towards Governor Scott, saying that he didn’t see him campaign in areas where people were struggling in the past year, and said he would invite him to visit those people today. “Governor, come on down to Pasco County. I’ll take you to areas where people are struggling. Here their stories.”

Fasano praised recently elected Pinellas County House Republicans Chris Latvala and Chris Sprowls for filing legislation that attempts to crack down on the investor-owned utilities and the Public Service Commission (though others, like former GOP legislator and PSC board member Nancy Argenziano have said those bills aren’t nearly strong enough).”It was the Sprowls’ and Latvala’s who realized right away they needed to file legislation,” Fasano said. “They got the message, they understand this. They realize they’re not going to be re-elected if they just follow leadership, ” he bellowed. “(Steve) Crisafulli (the incoming House Speaker) comes from a very safe district. Not all of those members come from safe districts.”

When asked by one enthusiastic supporter in the audience if he’d consider running for governor anytime, Fasano said he wasn’t interested. “I’m the happiest tax collector in the state,” he laughed.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.