Effort to advance partisan school boards in the Senate

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An effort to make Florida School Board races partisan contests advanced to the Senate on Tuesday.

Senator Joe gruters, a Republican from Sarasota, sponsored the bill, which cleared the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee by a partisan vote. Gruters argued that the elections would be more transparent by showing the candidates’ parties on the ballots. But Democrats have raised concerns that Florida’s closed primary system will effectively remove large numbers of voters from the process.

In any event, even if the legislature passes the bill (SJR 244), the question would appear on the November 2022 ballot and would need the support of over 60% of voters to change the constitution. This is because school boards became non-partisan thanks to a constitutional amendment passed by voters. in 1998.

Gruters said since then school board elections in all Florida counties have turned partisan anyway.

“It happens wherever there is organized partisan activity, if you have a decent president,” Gruters said.

He argued that local parties tend to support school board candidates and identify Democrats or Republicans on the ballot through the favored candidate lists mailed to voters. But by putting the political affiliation of the candidates on the ballot, all voters who vote in a race will see the party designation by a candidate’s name.

Already, he suggested, Republicans are typically elected to red county school boards, while blue counties tend to elect Democrats to school board. But sometimes candidates distort their values ​​and sneak past voters, he said.

“No time like the past 24 months has shown the need for school board members who reflect our values,” he said.

But Democrats, even those from deep blue counties, saw flaws in turning school board races into more partisan battles than they already are.

Senator Lori Berman, a Boynton Beach Democrat, noted that the FBI this year began tracking threats of violence against school board members. She represents a staunchly Democratic part of the state, but said school board members have always witnessed anger attacks in meetings.

“I fear that partisan elections will embolden voters and lead to worse behavior,” she said.

Notably, Gruters called the FBI’s decision to investigate those who make public comments at meetings a misstep.

“What a mistake it was to target parents who are worried,” he said.

Senator Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat in a tightly divided district, fears that many voters, including parents with children in the school system, may find themselves completely excluded from the political process because important races are decided in the primary elections.

“If you want to bring people together, try to represent all Floridians or the whole community, ask everyone to have their say,” she said.

Gruters recalled that Florida opens the primaries to all voters if only candidates from one party run. No Democrat has raised the issue of the written candidates loophole, which allows a candidate to run for free in the general election and close the primary, even if written candidates have virtually no chance of winning. However, the senator Jennifer bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who voted for the bill, suggested that the advancement of the school board’s partisan issue could be associated with closing that loophole.

And the senator Randolph Bracy, an Ocoee Democrat, suggested an amendment to the legislation that would also cover local races, such as city boards, which by state law must be non-partisan. Gruters said he would be open to such an amendment if he won Bracy’s support.

“We almost had a deal,” Bracy said.

It is noteworthy that in Sarasota County of Gruters, the electorate last year rejected a member of the school board Eric robinson, former president of the Republican Party of Sarasota and partner of Gruters in an accounting firm Robinson, Gruters & Roberts, in favor of the current school board member Tom Edwards, a registered Democrat. Edwards won the August non-partisan primary with 52% of the vote. Months later, nearly 55% of Sarasota County voters opted for the Republican Party Donald trump in the presidential election. But despite the republicans Karen rose Also winning a seat on the Sarasota County School Board in August, a majority of non-partisan members of the board are now registered Democrats.

The bill is then sent to the Senate Committee on Education, then to the Committee on Rules.

A complementary resolution in the House (HJR 35) sponsored by Rep. Spencer roach, a Republican from North Fort Myers, is now on the Secondary Education and Career Development subcommittee.


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