Saturday, September 14, 2013

Can Florida Democrats win in Pasco County's special House election next month?

Posted by on Sat, Sep 14, 2013 at 10:55 AM

Amanda Murphy
  • Amanda Murphy
Although undoubtedly many Republicans in Tallahassee were pleased when Governor Rick Scott chose longtime legislator Mike Fasano to replace the late Mike Olson as tax collector in Pasco County last month, state Democrats hungry to raise their numbers in Tallahassee were happy as well.

It's easy to understand why some Republicans were enthused to get Fasano out of their House caucus. His populist leanings, which have grown more prominent in recent years a the same time the PROF have moved further to the right, made him an outcast in his own party, a la Charlie Crist.

But his departure creates a potential opening for the Democrats to take the House District 36 seat in next month's special election, a district that Barack Obama took both in 2008 and 2012.

Their hope lies with Amanda Murphy, a Raymond James financial adviser, who Pasco Democrats had previously asked to consider running for office. But now with her kids in college, Murphy says she's all in, though she admits that her "hair's on fire" in trying to assemble a campaign apparatus in just a few weeks time.

The New Port Richey native also admits that another reason for previously reluctance to run was that she would be challenging Fasano, who represented Pasco County in the House and Senate for 19 years. "I though that was a waste of time, " she says. "He was truly fighting for the people, so it seemed silly to try to run against that."

Her husband, Matthew Murphy, unsuccessfully against ran against Republican Kathryn Starkey for Pasco County Commission last year. But Amanda Murphy says internal polls give her optimism that she could be successful in succeeding Fasano, who has yet to endorse a candidate in the race.

The 43-year-old Murphy is running unopposed in the Democratic primary. She will face the winner of the Sept. 17 GOP primary between Pasco County Republican Party chairman Jim Mathieu, Presbyterian minister Bill Gunter and insurance agent Jeremy Harding. Gunter is considered the heavy favorite in that contest, as he's garnered the endorsements of fellow Pasco Republicans Will Weatherford and Richard Corcoran.

However he was the recipient of unwelcome news on Friday when it was revealed that he failed to disclose two previous arrests when applying to work for the Pasco County School District in 1989. Gunter said that he didn't think he needed to admit to his arrests because he was a juvenile when he was arrested for riving with a suspended license and later for petty larceny (He was also arrested on a separate battery charge but prosecutors later dropped that case).

One of Murphy's top campaign issues is supporting Fasano's call to repeal the state's controversial 2006 nuclear cost recovery fee, which charged customers of Progress Energy (now Duke) and Florida Power & Light over a billion dollars for nuclear power plants that won't ever be built.

And unlike her Republican opponents, Murphy supports Common Core standards. That's the federal testing program scheduled to kick in next year to gauge state-to-state proficiency. "Most of the teachers I've talked to love it, " she says, adding that they feel it's a "great way for children to travel in and out of states where your child is going to school. " But she said a problem in Florida education is that teachers are still being held to teaching to FCAT standards, and complains that funding for education spending remains below 2007 standards.

Also like Fasano (but unlike virtually every other Tallahassee-based Republican), Murphy supports the Medicaid expansion plan offered by the federal government as part of Obamacare. She cites statistics that claim doing so would bring 120,000 private sector jobs to Florida as a solid reason for her support.

"The polls that we've seen are very good," she says, but cautions that it's all about who will turn out to vote in a special election with nothing else on the ballot.

The GOP primary in House District 36 takes place on Tuesday. The winner will face Murphy on October 15.

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