Mike Fasano represented Pasco County in the Florida Legislature 19 years before being appointed tax collector in 2013 by Gov. Rick Scott. Having spent almost an equal amount of time between both chambers, he says there’s a vast gulf of difference between the two GOP-controlled bodies in Tallahassee as far as independence, philosophy, and temperament.
“In the House, they follow. It’s sheep in the House. You will follow me as Speaker, and I will tell you what to do,” Fasano told members of the Tampa Tiger Bay Club who gathered at Jackson’s Bistro on Harbour Island Friday afternoon. “There’s an understanding: You want your bills passed? You want that appropriations for your hometown? You want that decent office space? You will do as what I am doing as well.”
Fasano said that the case of Medicaid expansion in 2013 was a classic example of the way things work in the Legislature.
A hybrid plan health care plan based on the Florida Kid Care model was introduced by Sen. Joe Negron, a Republican of Stuart. It was a plan that would have required a waiver from the White House, but could have enabled the state to obtain the federal money needed to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Floridians. That proposal passed almost unanimously in the Senate (St. Petersburg’s Jeff Brandes was the lone dissenting vote), but was shot down in the House. Fasano tried to carry Negron’s bill there after, he said, some Republicans told him in advance that they would back the measure on the floor.
“They lied to me,” he said as the crowd laughed in unison. “I had zero votes when the vote came around, because they were petrified of leadership.”
He then brought up the issue of prison privatization to illustrate the disparity between Republicans in the House and Senate. When that proposal was floated a few years ago in the Legislature, nine Senate Republicans — including Paula Dockery, Jack Latvala and even arch-conservative Ronda Storms from Hillsborough County — joined the Democrats in opposing the measure. “That’s why it died by one vote,” he said.
Fasano wasn’t down on all House Republicans, though. He expressed pride for the members on the Legislative Budget Commission, whose opposition in a hearing Thursday to provide subsidies to cities with sports stadiums revealed what he said is a new mindset. He singled out newly elected Pinellas Republicans such as Chris Sprowls and Chris Latvala, saying they’re showing independence with their recently proposed legislation to more tightly regulate the Public Service Commission and investor-owned utilities.
Fasano was joined on the dais by Jim Davis, a former Tampa congressman and state legislator whose 18-year career in politics ended when he lost the race for governor to Charlie Crist in 2006.
Now a lobbyist for Holland & Knight, Davis wasn’t exactly encouraging in talking about Democratic chances to better themselves in Tallahassee, mentioning several times that he’s looking forward to the 2022 census to make some legislative districts more competitive. He said he’s discouraged lawyers he knows who say they want to run for the House as a Democrat now. “I say don’t do it,” he said. “You’re not relevant yet. You will be after the court enforces the redistricting amendment.” (That’s in reference to the Fair Districts Florida amendments still tied up in the courts).
Fasano said that when he entered the Legislature 20 years ago, state Democrats were going too far to the left, in his humble opinion.
He said Democrat Amanda Murphy‘s victory in his former Pasco House seat confirms the GOP has gone too far to the right for a conservative-leaning district. “I think voters change along the way as well and they just say, ‘Hey, you’ve just gone too far that we’re just not happy in the direction that you are taking our state.”
He said in the many gerrymandered districts drawn up throughout the state, Republicans’ biggest fear is being challenged in a primary election, not a Democrat in a general election contest.
Tiger Bay Club moderator Chris Ingram at one point said he’s aware of Scott’s many struggles during his four years as governor, but “what has he done right?”
Fasano initially couldn’t suppress a laugh. After Davis gave praise to Scott for coming around on the environment, Fasano said that he’s impressed that the governor saw the light on education funding, after initially making major cuts during his first year in office.
The two men were asked to muse on politics generally. Both said they think Marco Rubio ultimately will seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2018,. Davis called Rubio’s presidential run a way to get him better known throughout the state to position him better against Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.
Fasano said he proudly supports Jeb Bush for president and has already given him a campaign contribution.