Pasco County’s Republican Tax Collector, Mike Fasano, likely provided the margin of victory for liberal Democrat Amanda Murphy yesterday as she narrowly won a special election to replace Fasano in the Florida House of Representatives. Murphy won the election over Republican Bill Gunter by just 300 votes out of nearly 20,000 votes cast.
After resigning his seat in the Florida House to accept appointment as Pasco County Tax Collector, Fasano pledged to remain neutral regarding the special election. During the final weeks of the campaign, however, Fasano broke his promise and campaigned hard for Murphy while aggressively attacking Gunter’s integrity with negative campaigning and unsupported innuendos. In a campaign ad filmed and aired during the final week before the election, for example, Fasano claimed Gunter was merely a puppet who will ask “How high?” when unnamed taskmasters – presumably lobbyists and special interests – tell him to jump.
Gunter, a longtime public school teacher who lettered for the Florida Gators football team and serves as the senior pastor at a Pasco County church, declined to respond in kind to Fasano’s attacks. Gunter also declined to respond in kind to negative campaign mailers sent out by the Florida Democratic Party.
In the final-week campaign ad attacking Gunter, Fasano never mentioned that Gunter is a Democrat. Murphy and dozens of supporters waving campaign signs also appeared in the ad, though none of the signs nor the language in the ad made any mention of Murphy being a Democrat. With Fasano being widely known in the district as a Republican, the ad likely confused many Republican voters in the Republican-leaning district and induced them to vote for Murphy.
Fasano, representing House District 34, was the most liberal Republican in the Florida House during the 2013 legislative session, according to the liberal website The Florida Squeeze. The Florida Squeeze made formal position statements on 11 high-priority bills and scored Florida House members on how they voted on the bills. The Florida Squeeze advocated for a bill supporting the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) and against bills reducing taxes, affirming gun ownership rights, respecting parental choice for where children attend public school, requiring government employees to contribute to their generous pension plans, and holding violent criminals responsible when their acts of violence result in the death of a woman’s unborn baby. The Florida Squeeze gave double weight in their scoring system to the gun ownership and parental choice issues. Fasano attained the highest liberal score of any Republican House member, with only one Republican scoring even half the liberal rating as Fasano, and only two Republicans scoring even one-third the liberal rating as Fasano.
Fasano is a longtime foe of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, vigorously supporting Charlie Crist after Crist left the Republican Party and challenged Rubio in the 2010 U.S. Senate election.