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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Something historic this way comes

The typical legislative delegation meeting is by turns fascinating, tedious, comedic, distressing, outlandish and more, but today’s, beginning at 1 p.m. at Rushe Middle School, promises something for the record books, something legitimately historic.

Usually these annual confabs are where local officials, agency chiefs and members of the public go on the record asking for special consideration, legislators respond, “We’ll see what we can do,” and things roll on unremarkably until it’s all over, the gymnasium or auditorium is emptying out and dogged hangers-on are posing for pictures with lawmakers.

Sometimes the audience is rewarded with unanticipated spectacle, as it was almost precisely five years ago when Scott McPherson, then New Port Richey’s mayor and an extremely good Democrat freshly returned from President Obama’s first inaugural, scolded the all-GOP delegation for its backwater failure to properly appreciate how the world had shifted.

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And sometimes you get the sort of simple small-town humility that is as much absent from our selfie-obsessed culture as it is longed for, as when former Zephyrhills Mayor Cliff McDuffie told legislators he was going to keep his hands in his pockets because he knew it was the wrong time to ask Tallahassee for anything new.

But only rarely do you get history, which is what we’re getting today.

The meeting will be Will Weatherford’s eighth and last on the legislators’ side of the dais, the leadoff hitter in a long and historic lineup of final moments stretching to just beyond Election Day, when the first Florida Speaker of the House from Pasco County in more than 100 years — the last was a former Confederate army captain — at last surrenders the gavel.

But just so nobody gets all prematurely nostalgic, among those lining up to lay out their perceptions of local priorities will be, for the first time, Mike Fasano, the 21-year legislator-turned-tax collector.

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This is not merely some quirk of history, a novelty (meaning no disrespect to quirks and novelties). It is a fresh glimpse of an emerging political rebalancing act as obvious as the composition of the delegation itself: In another of those first-in-recent-memory twists, a Democrat, Amanda Murphy, will be among state lawmakers representing Pasco County ... and Fasano, whom she succeeded by winning October’s special election, as much as put her there.

And just so nobody forgets — not that anybody in politics ever does — just last week Fasano told a Tampa Bay-area political reporter he found it intriguing how candidates associated with the Republican-led Legislature have gone 0-2 in recent local special elections. New Port Richey Pastor Bill Gunter was encouraged and backed by GOP leadership in the race for Fasano’s old seat. State Rep. Kathleen Peters, of South Pasadena, lost in the Republican primary to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young.

“Recently, anyone associated with the Florida House Republicans loses,” Fasano reportedly said. “Gunter and now Peters. Is there a trend and/or a message there from the voters?”

It is inconceivable Fasano would have hinted about some subliminal theme if he thought otherwise. Here’s the flaw: It’s hard to believe Pinellas Republicans agree with Fasano that the Legislature’s failure to expand Florida’s Medicaid pool under the Affordable Care Act is a disaster.

So anyway, sometime this afternoon Fasano will go before his former colleagues to pitch the merits of including Metropolitan Ministries transitional housing program in Holiday in the new state budget.

On this historic day of firsts and lasts, Metropolitan Ministries better hope Pasco’s state legislators aren’t in a throttle-the-messenger mood.

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