Race takes on personal issues
By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
Along with a host of state problems -- education, prescription drug costs, overworked child welfare workers -- Lee Cannon has chosen another topic to highlight in the race for state Senate District 11: Mike Fasano lives with his mother.
The race between former Pasco County sheriff Cannon, a Democrat, and and Republican state Rep. Fasano has stayed mostly on the issues. The two share a stormy history but have kept a good share of their debates to differences of opinion on education and the role of the Legislature.
But Cannon has managed a few personal jabs. Two years ago, Cannon lost his re-election bid for sheriff to political newcomer Bob White, who was heavily supported by Fasano. Before then, Fasano allies on the County Commission regularly battled with then-Sheriff Cannon, primarily over his budget requests.
That track record has resulted in a bit of mudslinging in the contest for the sprawling state Senate district that hugs the coast from northern Pinellas County to the Citrus-Levy County line.
During recent campaign debates, Cannon, 57, criticized Fasano's eight-year record in the Legislature of giving tax breaks to special interests while critical areas such as education have suffered. Fasano, 44, touts the Republican administration's increase in education spending and his own record of trying to help senior citizens gain access to cheaper generic prescription drugs and at-home health care.
But Cannon, both in interviews and a political mailer, departs from the issues and emphasizes Fasano's marital status as single and that he "still lives at home with his mom."
Cannon has said his own life experience sending two daughters through public schools puts him more in touch with problems facing his district's voters.
In response, Fasano said his mother lives with him because she is too sick and strapped with prescription drug costs to live alone.
"I make sure my mom is taken care of," Fasano said. "She's diabetic, she's on high blood pressure medication. Her prescription drugs are several hundred dollars a month. There's no way she can live on her own."
On that issue, Cannon says the Legislature has fallen down on the job. It has given tax breaks to the rich instead of spending that money on seniors and children.
Fasano supports expanding the state's prescription drug assistance for low-income seniors.
"No senior should have to choose between food and drugs," Fasano said.
Cannon supports the expansion, too, but says if elected he would push for coverage for all the state's senior citizens.
"I think we need a change in Tallahassee," Cannon announced last week during a political forum at the Pasco-Hernando Community College campus on Ridge Road.
"We keep giving tax breaks to people who don't need them," Cannon said of the Legislature during Fasano's tenure. Meanwhile, in special session last December, lawmakers met to plug a $1-billion deficit, including cutting education spending by $309-million.
Fasano says lawmakers have poured billions of new dollars into education during his time in office. Cannon says the spending has not sufficiently kept pace with inflation and student population growth.
Cannon supports a constitutional amendment on the ballot on Election Day that would reduce classroom sizes.
"I think we're going to have to do some belt tightening," Cannon said. He favors examining the state sales tax exemptions in order to find funds for education.
Fasano opposes the amendment, saying it would cost taxpayers up to $27-billion. Instead, Fasano says, lawmakers should be allowed to find solutions to cut class sizes.
Aside from funding, the two differ on the FCAT tests, as well. Cannon thinks the state's testing of students as well as schools has been an abysmal failure.
"We don't need teachers spending an entire day teaching to a test," Cannon said.
Fasano says the tests bring accountability.
"Whether you call it FCAT or DCAT, there better be some sort of standard or test to make sure our children are ready to move into the next grade," Fasano said.
Cannon also promotes his law enforcement background. Fasano credits himself with sponsoring tougher sentencing laws.
On the troubled Department of Children and Families, Cannon pointed to the pilot program in Pasco and Pinellas counties started when he was sheriff. Deputies, not a social worker, immediately handle investigations of child abuse.
Fasano said he thinks the DCF should be relieved of some of its caseload by shifting problems with veterans and the elderly to the state agencies that cater to those populations.
Both have extensive public service in their backgrounds.
After the Navy, Cannon obtained a law degree from Nova University in Fort Lauderdale. He has served as a prosecutor, defense attorney, a vice detective in the Tampa Police Department and Pasco sheriff for eight years before his defeat in 2000.
Fasano attended classes at St. Petersburg College, delivered newspapers for the St. Petersburg Times and worked for the Florida Lottery. Twelve years ago, he joined Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in Port Richey, where he is now associate vice president for investments. He has represented state House District 45 the past eight years and must step down due to term limits. He briefly served as House majority leader from 2000 to 2001 until he gave up the No. 2 spot after a dispute with House Speaker Tom Feeney.
His influence shows in campaign contributions, a virtual war chest of almost $350,000 by mid October compared to Cannon's near $64,000 by the same time. Cannon's contributors are from unions, lawyers, individuals, doctors, construction companies and the Florida Democratic Party.
Fasano's contributors are a mix of individuals, doctors, gasoline distributors, phone companies, medical associations, insurance companies and other corporations.
Cannon accuses Fasano of catering to big business at the expense of average residents. But Fasano says he has stood up to corporations in the past. He voted against a phone rate increase and in favor of seniors gaining access to more generic prescription drugs.
Cannon is not buying it. He says corporate interests have held sway over the Legislature for too long, the beneficiaries of big tax cuts in the past, money that could have been used for schools and seniors.
"We're not better off," Cannon said.
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