Column: Fasano Still Playing Defense

Jun 13, 2011

The following article was published in the Tampa Tribune on June 12, 2011:

Fasano Still Playing Defense

By Tom Jackson

In our first glimpse of him since the Legislature called it a session, Mike Fasano looks like … well, Mike Fasano. Every familiar detail is present and accounted for.

At the front of the room, the focus of three dozen pairs of eyes, he is, in form and fashion, as usual: trim, erect, poised, energetic, starched, creased, polished, scuff-free.

Debriefing the Pasco Alliance of Community Associations on the recently concluded state legislative session, Fasano’s hands dance; his eyebrows, acting independently, threaten to fly right off his forehead. All, again, as anticipated.

In short, you’d scarcely guess Fasano — five weeks out — continues to recover from the effects of a lawmaking session he likens to trench warfare when the other guys are lobbing laser-guided WMDs. But if ever anyone suffered post-traumatic-legislative syndrome, it’s Fasano, the Nature Coast state senator from New Port Richey.

“Every year, we (he and his staff) hope to pass good legislation that helps the people of Florida,” Fasano was saying, “but this was the first year we had to play defense the whole time.”

Of course one man’s “playing defense” is another man’s “obstructing progress.” That said, we choose — just this once — not to take sides. Fasano, a vanishing breed of populist/Republican elder statesman, was on a roll, and This Space would not impede his momentum.

He blasted property insurance reform as an “insurance industry dream bill come true.” When supporters said the legislation was drafted with “everybody at the table,” Fasano retorted, “Did the consumers have a seat? … I didn’t think so.”

Rates will go up, he says, and coverage will shrink. More property owners, not fewer, will flock to state-run Citizens. Some who have burned their mortgages will go “bare.”

“If premiums are raised and people can’t make their payments,” he says, “how many more foreclosures will there be? Imagine the economic impact if that happens.”

He was equally distressed about battling uphill to suppress pill mills — one-stop pain clinics that write and fill prescriptions — and to preserve the prescription-tracking database. Who could guess why leadership in both houses resisted, he says, with “seven people a day dying in Florida from legal drugs.”

Fasano credits freshman Attorney General Pam Bondi, from Tampa, whose ability to rally law enforcement support made the difference.

Tallahassee has changed, Fasano laments, and not for the better. Down to a single remaining session before he hits term limits — “Some people are counting the days,” he winks — he worries about a state government in the hands of lawmakers, and a governor, he regards as “too quick” to trample on “little guys and little gals” on behalf of big business.

Hmmmm. Would that mean, in Fasano’s perfect Florida, the state would have been better served had his good friend Charlie Crist sought a second term as governor, instead of pursuing his failed bid for the U.S. Senate?

At this, the veteran pol, 52 and not without future ambition, ducked, laughing. “I’m not going anywhere near that one.”

Well, we said Fasano had some psychological stress. Not that he was punch-drunk.

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