Rep. Fasano whips up waves of discontent
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2001
Our own home boy, state Rep. Mike Fasano, is really making waves in Tallahassee. But the waves are not all bringing him good publicity.
The New Port Richey Republican, known for ending every encounter with "God bless you, my friend," is gaining his share of profane epithets.
Fasano, who is majority leader in the House, ended this year's legislative session trading heated words with lobbyist Ronnie Book of Miami.
Fasano accused Book, a lobbyist for the Florida Marlins, of killing a bill that would have helped the Marlins remain in Miami, because it included a Fasano-sponsored amendment that would have damaged one of Book's other clients.
Book's other client, Weston lawyer Roy Oppenheim, called Fasano "a g-- d----ed liar" and accused him of trying to blackmail Book in comments published in the Miami Herald.
"He needs to go to church or something," Fasano said later.
Until recently, Fasano had done little to attract attention in the Legislature.
But boy has he got it now. Lobbyists, state officials and even some of his own fellow Republican lawmakers are mad enough to string him up by his toes.
They have a ready translation for his frequent "God Bless Yous" that suggests a profane anatomical impossibility.
Fasano seems not to care.
When reporters tell him how angry someone is, he says, "Well, God bless them," and goes right on doing whatever he was doing.
Some of his own members are furious. They thought the speaker meant it when he told them to always vote their conscience. Then they learned they were expected to toe the party line.
Fasano's last-minute amendment to the Marlins tax bill would have helped a client of former Gov. Bob Martinez. No one did a financial analysis of the amendment, but Book suggests it could cost the state upwards of $200-million. Fasano said the financial impact might be more like $500-million.
Fasano works for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. He had promised it would not become a bidder on the lucrative state contract to handle employees' retirement benefits. But the company made a last-minute effort to get in on the deal. Fasano said he was surprised by the move and offered to resign.
It's not the first time Fasano has been in the middle of a tempest over the mixing of his private business and his public duty.
Last year Sandra Mortham, lobbyist for the Florida Medical Association, put out a memo urging the FMA to use Fasano and his firm's Port Richey office to help invest the FMA's money.
Mortham reminded the doctors of how much help Fasano could be in times of need -- like when they need a little amendment tacked onto a bill.
Tom Herndon, executive director of the State Board of Administration, could tell you what happens when you tangle with Fasano.
Last year Herndon questioned Fasano's deep involvement in the move to allow state employees to handle some of their own investments.
On the final night of the session, Herndon found himself the subject of a rather unfriendly Fasano amendment.
Herndon's job is subject to the approval of the governor, Comptroller Bob Milligan and Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher. Under Fasano's bill, a vote to keep Herndon must take place every year, and he must have not only a majority, but the vote of the governor.
Fasano insists his little amendment wasn't personal, just good government.
The joke is on Fasano. Bush says he's pleased with Herndon's work.
The bill carrying the amendment provides a long-promised pension benefit for more than 12,000 law enforcement officers and firefighters.
The best amendment tricks are attached to important bills.
We're likely to hear more about our local lawmaker. He has a year left in the House and plans to run for the Senate.
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