When Pasco Tax Collector Mike Olson succumbed to the effects of a stroke in June, Pasco County lost its last elected Democrat holding a partisan office. Olson’s passing seemingly left the Pasco Democratic Party, which for decades held an iron dominance over the county’s politics, in the wilderness without a guide. On Tuesday, however, the Democrats staged a comeback that is both more and less than it seems. Tuesday’s balloting for the District 36 Florida House seat became necessary when Gov. Rick Scott named then-state Rep. Mike Fasano, a West Pasco Republican, to replace Olson. At the time, it might have seemed as if the governor could safely shift the maverick Fasano to a lower-profile job without jeopardizing the GOP’s hold on the District 36 House seat. That was a bad judgment on both counts. The Democrats came up with a strong candidate, financial services executive Amanda Murphy, who got a lot of high-profile political support from Fasano, one of Pasco’s most popular politicians of all time.
When the votes were counted Tuesday night, Murphy emerged the victor, by about 300 votes. The voter turnout was low, only around 20 percent, but Murphy and the Democrats won, despite the big bucks the GOP spent trying to get her opponent, Bill Gunter elected. On the other hand, as a practical matter replacing Fasano, an increasingly populist ally of former Gov. Charlie Crist, in the Florida House with Murphy will barely move the ideological-balance needle in the Legislature’s lower chamber. Pasco Democrats, however, have given their GOP counterparts something to think about ahead of the 2014 election season.