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Wildlife habitat protection nominee raises eyebrows

By C. T. BOWEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


One of the routine duties of the County Commission is making appointments to the county's 27 advisory panels.

Consider the commission meeting five days ago:

An appointment to the Animal Control Advisory Committee. The vote was 5-0.

An appointment to the Solid Waste Management Citizens Advisory Committee. Unanimous again.

Another for the animal control board. Ditto.

Someone for the Waterways and Navigation Board. Aye, aye, aye, aye, aye.

They could do this in their sleep.

Just one more. A representative for the new technical advisory committee for the wildlife habitat protection program.

"Whoa," said Commissioner Ted Schrader when he heard the name suggested by the county attorney's office. He wasn't alone.

The recommendation was to appoint an impartial attorney with a background in land management issues. The identified candidate was Kathy Castor of Tampa, a former lawyer for the Department of Community Affairs, and daughter of Betty Castor -- former state senator, education commissioner, and University of South Florida president.

The younger Castor made her own unsuccessful bid for the Senate last year in a district that included portions of Pasco County.

Whoa, indeed.

A political junkie's initial thought? A Democrat is going to challenge Mike Fasano's coronation as state senator after all.

Fasano, the majority leader in the state House of Representatives, already is off and running for a Senate seat that doesn't exist yet. He wants to be Pasco's senator, presuming the legislative redistricting in 2002 leaves the entire county, or at least the majority of it, in a single Senate district.

Fasano has filed his candidacy papers, will be feted at a fundraiser later this month by his medical pals in Hollywood, Fla., and just got appointed to a position recommending Public Service Commission candidates to the governor.

Translation: Oodles of contributions from utilities will be flowing to his campaign account.

There's the tasks of legislating/campaigning, too. Fasano held a press conference Friday in Tallahassee to tout the third installment of Gov. Jeb Bush's desire to cut the intangibles tax and then addressed the locals Saturday morning at a Catholic church in Land O'Lakes and at the Pasco Republican Executive Committee meeting at Land O'Lakes High School. The guy does not exhaust easily.

Castor's political aspirations, we must caution, are highly speculative at this point. Schrader's "whoa" wasn't intended to stop the phantom Senate horse race. He wanted to appoint lawyer David Smolker to the advisory panel as an alternative. He lost on a 3-2 vote.

Politically ambitious Commissioner Peter Altman joined Schrader's dissent after wondering out loud about the propriety of putting a politically ambitious lawyer on the advisory committee.

Funny how it took Altman, a Democrat, to make the connection for the rest of the board. Republicans Ann Hildebrand and Pat Mulieri supported Castor's appointment.

So ask Castor about plans for a Senate run.

"Who knows?" she said. "I will always be involved in community service in some way whether elected or not."

Hardly a Gen. Sherman-like denial.

But would she move from south Tampa to Pasco County for a Senate run?

"I doubt it, but you never know with reapportionment."

It seems safe to say Castor is keeping her options open. Pasco County, incidentally favored her over Republican Victor Crist in last year's race to replace Sen. John Grant. She had a 434-vote margin out of more than 35,000 cast in the Pasco portion of the district.

But political ambition, she notes, is not why she accepted the appointment to the technical advisory committee. Pasco is in the midst of an overhaul of its environmental rules following the settlement to a legal challenge to its comprehensive land-use plan.

New protections for wildlife habitat are a given, but other possible outcomes could be a wildlife corridor connecting the Brooker Creek Preserve to the well fields in Pasco and a program for the county to preserve environmentally sensitive land.

Castor, who lobbied for the city of Clearwater against the billboard industry in Tallahassee, said she'd like Pasco to avoid the development congestion that surrounds her childhood community of Carrollwood.

"Pasco County," she said, "needs to act now."

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