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Fasano resigns as House majority leader

The Republican's decision comes after a heated encounter with Speaker Tom Feeney.

By STEVE BOUSQUET and LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2001


The Republican's decision comes after a heated encounter with Speaker Tom Feeney.

TALLAHASSEE -- In an abrupt power shakeup, state Rep. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey resigned as House majority leader Thursday after a heated behind-the-scenes clash with House Speaker Tom Feeney.

The two men had harsh words in a private Capitol meeting that ended with Fasano offering to resign as majority leader after Feeney expressed a desire to make changes in the way the House operates. A little later, Fasano delivered a letter to Feeney in an envelope marked "confidential."

Fasano offered the written resignation saying he was leaving "of my own decision with no malice toward anyone."

He insists his decision was not made in anger, but out of a desire to spend more time working on issues he cares about without having anyone see his work as coming from a leadership position.

Fasano said he wants to file bills dealing with "patient protection, HMOs and consumer issues."

Fasano denied reports of a major rift with Feeney, saying, "Speaker Feeney is like a brother to me." Fasano also denied reports that he had asked Gov. Jeb Bush to intervene on his behalf.

Feeney would not return telephone calls and dodged a St. Petersburg Times reporter when leaving his office to drive home to Oviedo on Thursday afternoon. A spokesperson said Feeney wanted to consider the issue overnight.

Fasano, 43, a financial adviser, rose quickly in the House power structure after his party took control in 1996. He gained national attention last fall when the Legislature interjected itself into the post-election struggle for the White House.

He relished his role as a powerbroker in the Capitol. He occupied a big third-floor corner office that connects to the speaker's suite by a spiral staircase, and he enjoyed a front-row seat close to the speaker's rostrum.

Fasano also is one of the most controversial figures in the Legislature. Behind his cheerful public persona, and his habit of ending conversations with "God bless you, my friend," is a man who uses power with bare-knuckled relish.

Last session, for example, Fasano pushed additional investment options for public employees that would have benefited his employer, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. Fasano said his employer told him it wasn't interested in bidding for the work, but the company later told state officials that it would.

The government watchdog group Common Cause said the move highlighted the need for stronger conflict-of-interest laws for legislators.

The speaker's office sought to keep a tight lid on Thursday's turmoil, and members of Feeney's inner circle said they had heard only rumors.

"As of yesterday, it was full-speed ahead," said a stunned Rep. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, one of two majority whips in the House. "I would be very shocked if it's true."

It was true, but Feeney's spokeswoman Kim Stone initially denied it. She downplayed differences between Fasano and Feeney, saying the two were close. "The speaker has total faith in his capability," Stone said.

The Times obtained Fasano's resignation letter through a public records request an hour after Stone had attributed reports of a leadership shakeup to "the sort of conversation that goes on all the time in the Capitol about where people would be happiest and would best serve the speaker."

Fasano has been in the House since 1994. He has raised nearly $88,000 so far in a 2002 race for the Senate seat now held by Jack Latvala, a Palm Harbor Republican who faces term limits.

Other legislators say former House Majority Leader Jerry Maygarden, R-Pensacola, will replace Fasano, but Maygarden said he has not been notified.

- Times reporter Alisa Ulferts and researchers Caryn Baird and Stephanie Scruggs contributed to this report.

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