NEW PORT RICHEY — Less than a year ago, money was pouring into west Pasco County from all over Florida as the special election to fill Mike Fasano’s longtime House seat became the county’s most expensive race ever.
The Republican Party of Florida spent over $250,000 to try to keep the swing district from going blue. Conservative electioneering committees spent another $175,000 on attack ads and mailers. It didn’t work. Democrat Amanda Murphy eked out a win last October, defeating minister Bill Gunter by 305 votes.
In doing so, Murphy became the first Democrat Pasco County voters would send to Tallahassee in over two decades.
Now Republicans Chris Gregg and Jim Mathieu are hoping to unseat her — and they’re doing it without the special interest money that marked last year’s special election. Neither candidate is a stranger to local Republican voters.
Mathieu, who chairs the county’s GOP Executive Committee, challenged Fasano in 2012 and sought the party nomination last year, losing to Gunter.
“I want to be the state representative,” he said. “I ran last year. I was outspent in the special election by an opponent who spent $70,000 in the primary. I just want a fair chance. I feel I could do a better job. I’m serious and I actually want to make a difference.”
Gregg was part of a crowded Republican field in 2012 in the race for the District 3 county commission seat long held by Anne Hildebrand. Kathryn Starkey won the five-way primary without a runoff and defeated Democrat Matt Murphy (Amanda’s husband) in the general election. In that race, Gregg sent out negative mailers portraying Starkey as a lipstick-wearing rhinoceros. He also ran for the state house in Pinellas County as a no party candidate in 2000.
“I’ve got two young boys, and their future keeps looking bleaker and bleaker as our government continues to grow,” he said. “We need to reduce spending and increase jobs,” Gregg said.
Both candidates have spent about $16,500 so far, but it should be noted that Mathieu has loaned his campaign $11,500. Gregg has spent about $3,600 of his own money on the campaign.
Murphy holds a significant fundraising advantage, with about $76,000 in contributions, including $14,500 from the Florida Democratic Party.
Gregg said he doesn’t think Murphy can be effective in Tallahassee as a member of the minority party. “She’s the lone Democrat in the county — she’s at a disadvantage in a Republican legislature,” he said. “I can work with Speaker Steve Crisafulli and the leadership.”
Gregg’s primary campaign platform is to work to repeal the nuclear power plant fee from Duke Energy — something his opponent also advocates. He believes the district is still up for grabs, and as a former Air Force Reserve flight medic, he hopes to appeal to veterans across party lines.
Mathieu, an attorney and mediator who also serves as president of the Athenian Academy of Pasco Charter School, said he cares passionately about education. He wants to draft legislation that would shift the oversight of charter schools away from local school districts.
“The problem is the people who are governing the charter schools are competing with us for the same money,” he said. “For our population, Pasco has too few charter schools.”
District 36 comprises most of west Pasco County from Holiday to Aripeka. It starts at the coast and extends east to Little Road, Rowan Road and Seven Springs Boulevard.