Ex-Rep. Mike Fasano's appointment as Pasco County tax collector didn't just end his legislative career. It also put an end to an intriguing scenario that he might have sought a return to the Senate by taking on fellow Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, next year -- which would have improved Sen. Jack Latvala's chances of becoming Pinellas County's first Senate president.
Fasano shares Latvala's moderate philosophy and he's very popular in Pasco, so Simpson would have been in big trouble. But Fasano says Simpson is "doing a wonderful job" and never seriously considered a Senate run, though he said there was "a big push by some people."
Simpson has heard the story that a privately commissioned poll showed Fasano with a huge lead over Simpson. Simpson calls that "a myth," but he'd like to know why anyone would have wanted Fasano to take him on. "I would love an answer to that question," Simpson said.
Simpson and the other 25 GOP senators must choose between Latvala and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for the presidency in 2016, following Sen. Andy Gardiner of Orlando. The Latvala-Negron race is described as close. "It's basically tied," Latvala said. (Negron could not be reached; 16 of the 20 senators facing re-election in 2014 are Republicans).
UPDATE: Negron supporters however, disagree. They claim the numbers are closer to 13-10 with three holdouts: Sens. Tom Lee of Brandon, Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Gardiner.
They are also confident that three of the open seats in 2016 -- Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville, Garrett Richter of Naples and Charlie Dean of Inverness will go to Negron supporters. Who? Matt Gaetz has already announced he's going to replace his dad. Former state Rep. Tom Grady is said to be considering a run to replace Richter and state Rep. Dennis Baxley is considering seeking Dean's seat.
Simpson is complicating the Latvala-Negron battle by holding out, at least publicly. "My opinions of both of them are forming," he said. He insists he's neutral even though Negron held a fund-raiser for him: "Jack Latvala has been very gracious to me ... Both gentlemen are fine people."
Another Tampa Bay senator who won't publicly take sides is Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. "I have" made a commitment, Brandes said, "but I don't want to get into the inner workings of Senate leadership."
Latvala aggressively backed Brandes' rival, Jim Frishe, in 2012 and Negron attended Brandes' election night victory party; Negron and Brandes also share libertarian views on some issues.
Brandes dismissed the idea that he should support Latvala because they are both from Tampa Bay. "You should support people you're philosophically aligned with," Brandes said. "You've got to think statewide."
The fight for control of the Florida Senate will likely go on until the 2014 session, and Brandes said: "I would say it's a very close race."
-- Steve Bousquet, Mike VanSickler, Mary Ellen Klas