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Fasano, Cannon could spar again for Senate

While no one has filed for the race for the proposed Senate District 11, Mike Fasano and Lee Cannon are talking like candidates.


By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002

They've been fighting for years but never toe to toe.

Now political foes Mike Fasano and Lee Cannon have a chance to square off on the November ballot, thanks to redistricting.

Fasano, a Republican state representative from New Port Richey, and former Pasco Sheriff Cannon could meet in a bid for state Senate District 11. Fasano already has said he plans to run for the district, which stretches from northern Pinellas County into Citrus County.

Now Cannon says he is seriously considering going after the seat as a Democratic contender.

As of yet, neither Fasano nor Cannon is taking a direct jab at the other.

"Sheriff Cannon, I'm sure, will be a formidable opponent if he decides to run," Fasano said last week. "My goal is to reach out to the people in this district and ask them to support me in the primary, and, if I'm successful, to ask for support in the general election. I don't see anything wrong with Sheriff Lee Cannon running."

Cannon, reached at his Palm Harbor law office, said a chance to bruise his political antagonist was not a factor in a decision to run. He plans to talk to his family and await the progress of a court review of the redistricting lines before making up his mind.

"If I run, it would have nothing to do with any past experiences with Mr. Fasano," Cannon said. "It would have to do with issues confronted by people in the district and the perspective that I could bring. With my background and education I would bring a more informed perspective for people."

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, security issues make up a large share of lawmakers' responsibilities, Cannon said. He thinks his years as sheriff, prosecutor and chairman of the Florida Sheriffs Association give him that expertise.

"I know and see and hear what the issues are," said Cannon, 56. "I hope to address more strongly and professionally than what other people might be able to do."

Have at it, says Ed Collins, a staunch Fasano supporter and veteran in the battles with Cannon. Collins, a lobbyist and former Pasco County commissioner, offered a more blunt assessment of Cannon's potential candidacy.

"It's a free country and if he wants to run for the Senate, he's more than welcome to get into the race," Collins said. "I'm sure, based on Sheriff Cannon's past election, his chances of winning this seat are slim to none."

Collins was referring to the 2000 race for Pasco sheriff, when Cannon lost to political newcomer Bob White, who was backed by Collins and Fasano.

Cannon said after his defeat that Collins and Fasano had tried to sink him in the race. Fasano and Collins had helped White with fundraising and advice.

The bad blood between Cannon and Collins goes back to 1993. Collins had supported incumbent Jim Gillum when Cannon ran for sheriff.

When Cannon took office, the fight with then-Commissioner Collins continued over the number of deputies on the streets and the sheriff's budget.

At one point, Collins accused Cannon of threatening to squash him "like the bug that you are." Cannon denied making the remark, but Collins later passed a polygraph test on the accusation.

A few years later in 1996, one of Cannon's men in the Sheriff's Office, Brian Prescott, unsuccessfully challenged Fasano for his House seat in a bitter race.

Then in 1998, Cannon publicly supported Steve Simon, who knocked Collins from office. That set the stage for the sheriff's race in 2000.

Now, two years later, it's another race.

But Collins says it's a different type of fight. A candidate for a state Senate seat must have a solid grasp of many issues.

"Your vision has to be beyond law enforcement," Collins said. "It has to be about growth . . . and roads and taxes."

But for Fasano, the battle for District 11 began months ago when state House and Senate committees started drawing new maps of legislative and congressional seats. State Sen. Jack Latvala currently holds the seat in what became District 11.

Fasano thought Latvala, a Pinellas Republican who leaves office this year due to term limits, was trying to carve a district that would favor a candidate from Pinellas.

But Fasano now says he's satisfied with the results that put 53 percent of Pasco's population in District 11.

The district has differences in growth rates, with northern Pinellas County already fully developed while Pasco and Hernando are booming. But Fasano sees many similarities in the areas of health care and income.

"One thing in common is that the entire district has a large population of retirees on fixed income," said Fasano, 43.

Before Fasano could meet Cannon in the general election, he needs to beat state Rep. Larry Crow of Palm Harbor in the Republican primary.

Crow, whose current House district rests in north Pinellas, said he believes voters in the coastal Senate district will find his environmental record appealing.

"It's a Republican area but because it's a coastal area, people are more environmentally sensitive. And my strong environmental record will carry a lot of weight," Crow said.

District 12, which takes up a large swath of central Pasco and its hot growth spots, is assigned to Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa. Zephyrhills is part of District 10, which is represented by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

Crist, who gained a share of Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite's former district along with Lee, said the Senate map bodes well for Pasco.

"I think there's an advantage to having three senators representing (Pasco), especially if you look at who they are," Crist said, referring to his own 10 years of experience and Lee's position.

"Tom Lee is the second most powerful man in the Senate," he added. "Within the next two years, he will become the president of the Senate. And that is an advantage for Pasco County."

-- Saundra Amrhein covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244, or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is

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