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Fasano, Latvala both seek political self-preservation

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 6, 2002

State Rep. Mike Fasano and Sen. Jack Latvala used to squabble over the picayune -- like who would coordinate the ceremony designating State Road 54 as the Purple Heart Highway.

As their influence (and egos) grew in Tallahassee, so did the disagreements.

Fasano didn't want to help his political nemesis, then-Sheriff Lee Cannon, obtain state dollars for a pilot domestic violence program, but Latvala did and put the money into the state budget. Fasano once gutted the House version of Latvala's elections reform bill. Later, Latvala barked at Fasano to leave the Senate floor during a debate on a patient protection bill.

Their deteriorating relationship hit bottom this week with the release of the Senate's version of the district maps covering legislative and congressional seats for the next 10 years. Fasano envisioned Pasco County remaining largely intact as a safe haven for his own Senate run later this year. Senators, at least the subcommittee drawing the lines, thought otherwise and divided the county among three districts. The caveat to Pasco is that the new Senate District 19 will be comprised of 187,099 residents from west Pasco, 153,113 from north Pinellas and 58,472 from western Hernando.

"There's no reason in the world Pasco County shouldn't win that seat," Latvala said Friday.

Not true, said Fasano, who suspects the seat is designed for a Pinellas Republican -- Latvala. That scenario explains why Latvala asked Rep. Heather Fiorentino of New Port Richey to run for the seat, knowing she planned to leave Tallahassee in 2004, possibly for a run at the County Commission. It allows Latvala to recapture the seat, just two years after being forced out of office by term limits.

Latvala says he wants "someone who is representative of the community" to follow him in District 19. So much so that Fiorentino isn't the only person to have a conversation with the senator.

Latvala's candidate recruitment list includes County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, New Port Richey Mayor Wendy Brenner, former council member Frank Parker, Realtor John Grey, School Board member Pam Coulter, Scenic Pasco activist Kathryn Starkey and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the only Pinellas resident.

Fasano is conspicuous by his absence.

It's because Fasano's loyalties rest with legislative leaders when their interests conflict with Pasco County's, Latvala said. He gave two instances: Fasano was the only member of the Pasco delegation to vote against the special session bill that delayed repealing the intangibles tax. Had a majority shared Fasano's position, Pasco schools stood to lose a couple of million dollars. Likewise, Latvala criticized Fasano for not championing a bill two years ago that added Pasco County to a list of school districts eligible for state money in exchange for dropping an impact fee on new homes. The Senate pushed through the bill, the House agreed, but Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed it.

But, those weren't interests exclusive to House leaders. They were Fasano's. Both positions were calculated to win political favor. After the school impact fee bill, Fasano crowed that he still had Tallahassee friends, aka lobbyists, who contribute to campaigns. The intangibles tax decision leaves Fasano with a voting record to highlight if he runs in a GOP primary -- when the turnout is heavy among the party's anti-tax, conservative right wing.

Fasano took some solace in the Senate maps showing no new congressional seat for House Speaker Tom Feeney of Oviedo. The district lines will change, he predicted.

They will, but not necessarily for Fasano's benefit. The congressional districts are subject to negotiation between the House and Senate and likely will be bantered about as part of the debates over new revenues in the coming budget year and Senate President John McKay's push for tax reform. It's a large carrot to dangle in front of Feeney whose anti-tax position matches Fasano's.

The Senate maps, however, are not expected to be altered significantly, said Latvala.

Fasano isn't owed any favors. He already rubbed some senators the wrong way with exchanges reported in this space Dec. 18. He told Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite he would challenge her for the congressional seat she covets if he didn't get a favorable Senate district.

"I just don't think we should be talked to that way from somebody who's only trying to look out for his own political neck," Latvala said Friday.

So, Fasano and Latvala are accusing each other of political self-preservation. Maybe they don't disagree as much as they think.

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