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    Power dinner a prelude to a power shift

    The former majority leader steps down shortly after his boss meets with former House Republican leaders.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 15, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- The resignation of House Majority Leader Mike Fasano from a leadership position he cherished came just hours after House Speaker Tom Feeney met with a handful of former House Republican leaders to talk about improving the way the House operates.

    Fasano turned in his resignation shortly after a reported tiff Thursday with Feeney over how the House will handle future procedures.

    Fasano later insisted his departure was voluntary and came because he wants to return to life as a regular member, free to push his own legislative agenda.

    Late Friday, Feeney's office released a statement saying Rep. Jerry Maygarden, R-Pensacola, will return to the post he held when John Thrasher was speaker from 1998 to 2000. Rep. Sandy Murman, R-Tampa, will replace Maygarden as chairman of a Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee.

    "Contrary to inaccurate press stories, this has been an amiable discussion about opportunities, advancing the interests of the Florida House and putting individual members into roles that they are most comfortable with and enthused about," Feeney said in his written statement.

    For the second straight day, the normally loquacious speaker refused to discuss the situation or answer questions.

    "Feeney and I are like brothers," Fasano insisted. "I am the only one who can get upset with him and hang up on him and he will still talk to me the next day. I want to do what I think is in the best interest of the speaker and my Republican conference."

    On Wednesday night at the home of lobbyist Jim Rathbun in Tallahassee, Feeney ate barbecued ribs and chicken with former House Republican leaders Curt Kiser, Ron Richmond, Jim Tillman and Dale Patchett.

    All of the former legislators are now lobbyists but have met for years with Republican leaders seeking advice from a few pioneers. Rathbun, the host, was Richmond's chief of staff when he served as Republican leader.

    Kiser, a former state senator from Pinellas County, said the group did not focus on Fasano and the problems he has had with some legislators who have objected to his heavy-handed leadership tactics, but mostly talked about ways to improve the way the House has handled things.

    Kiser and Richmond both said they were stunned to hear of Fasano's departure.

    "This is a total shock to me," Kiser said Friday. "I didn't detect any animosity or lack of trust between them."

    "I am just dumbfounded," Richmond said when a St. Petersburg Times reporter told him of Fasano's resignation. "There could have been absolutely nothing that would have come out of that meeting that would have led to Fasano's resignation. I always thought Mike worshiped the ground that Feeney walked on."

    The former leaders say they did express concern about the way the House degenerated into near chaos in the final days of this year's legislative session and suggested that Feeney restore some of the procedures put in place by former speaker Dan Webster when Republicans gained control of the House in 1996.

    Webster required the House to adjourn by 6 p.m. each day and refused to take up last-minute bills and amendments that had not had a full hearing in committee. The order established by his rules largely disappeared this year as the House paused several times to change the rules in the midst of debate and worked late into the night to finish work.

    Feeney received a lot of complaints from individual House members, who resented the way Fasano strong-armed them into voting, particularly freshmen members who wanted to vote their conscience but were forced to toe a party line.

    Richmond said Feeney expressed an interest in meeting with the former leaders to hear a critique of the session and get suggestions for improving things next year when legislators will be going into a redistricting session that is expected to be prolonged and filled with bitter partisanship.

    Kiser said Fasano's name came up during the meeting, but each time they discussed something that had happened during the session, Feeney told them that Fasano had been acting on his orders.

    - Times staff writers Julie Hauserman and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

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    From the Times state desk