NEW PORT RICHEY — Ed Collins’ first political race in Pasco County came three decades ago and pitted him against a field of five other candidates for the right to represent Precinct 66 in the Pasco Republican Executive Committee.
The size of the precinct around the Forest Hills neighborhood meant the top two vote-getters would earn committee seats. Mr. Collins, who had moved to Pasco two years earlier from New York, finished second. He was never ashamed of finishing nine votes behind another neophyte in the race – 23-year-old Richard Corcoran.
"They laughed about that for years,’’ said Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, a close friend to both.
Recalling that race, Corcoran said he "knew then that Ed was an honorable, principled fighter who would do great things for the county. He never disappointed.’’
Corcoran is now speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Mr. Collins went on to win the vice chairmanship of the local party and then two terms on the Pasco County Commission ending in 1998. He also served on the board of the former West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority, notably representing Pasco’s interests in the water wars over groundwater pumping in central and east Pasco to serve regional utility customers in Pinellas and Hillsborough.
Mr. Collins died Dec. 30 after a lengthy illness. He was 75.
Voters elected him to the County Commission in 1990 where he ousted Democratic incumbent Sonny Safranek by capturing support amid an anti-incumbent fervor and the popular budget-cutting promises of the Reagan era. His victory, and that of fellow Republican Bonnie Zimmer, gave Republicans a 4-1 majority on the commission at a time when Democrats were still the superior party in Pasco.
Democrats would contend Collins only sharpened his budget-cutting when it came to requests from Sheriff Lee Cannon, a Democrat. The two battled politically for six years, and Mr. Collins’ famously took a lie-detector test to try to validate his contention that Cannon promised to "squash him like a bug.’’ The polygraph results were inconclusive.
Mr. Collins, initially a critic of county government, later became a staunch supporter of the performance of County Administrator John Gallagher. But Mr. Collins’ own critics said the commissioner’s annual push for "no new people, no new programs’’ in county government also left Pasco poorly prepared for the challenges that came with a growth boom. But by his final year in office, the county added two dozen deputies and a handful of code enforcement officers.
Mr. Collins won a tough re-election battle in 1994, but lost four years later to a Cannon-backed unknown named Steve Simon whose prior political experience was limited to a homeowners’ association. At the time, even Republicans suggested the incumbent focused too much attention on campaign contributors rather than a broader constituency.
"Things just changed a little bit,’’ said Fasano. "Sometimes being a county commissioner you don’t become the most popular person because of the controversial votes you have to make. There were a lot of new people in the central and east part of county, and I think they just didn’t know Ed.’’
Mr. Collins, who publicly acknowledged his battles with alcohol, was a volunteer with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and later advocated for the local group Enraged People Against Rape. After his defeat at the polls, he lobbied in Tallahassee and did local political consulting work. In 2012, he entered his name in the political arena again. He ran as a write-in candidate for Pasco school superintendent to close the GOP primary and prevent Democrats and independents from voting in the race against incumbent Superintendent Heather Fiorentino and eventual winner Kurt Browning.
"Only Republicans should vote in Republican primaries,’’ Mr. Collins said at the time.
Fasano, whose own political career was jump-started in 1994, the year Mr. Collins won re-election, called Mr. Collins one of his most loyal supporters. "Even when I did some not-so-smart things, Ed was always there to back me up.’’
Fasano said when he traveled to Tallahassee for legislative duties, Mr. Collins would look in on the representative’s mother and even made sure she had money available to play her beloved bingo games.
Thomas B. Dobies Funeral Home, 6616 Congress St. in New Port Richey, is in charge of arrangements.