Seven months after her election to the Pinellas County School Board, Nina Hayden has decided she wants to go to Tallahassee.
Hayden, an attorney in the Public Defender's Office, confirmed last week that she will run for Sen. Charlie Justice's seat in 2010. The district, one of Florida's most competitive, is based in Pinellas but includes part of Hillsborough County.
Times education reporter Donna Winchester talked to Hayden about her decision to run for the state Senate and how it will affect her remaining time on the School Board.
How does running for state Senate affect your position as a School Board member? Will you have to resign?
My term is up in 2010. I'd have to run for a position regardless, whether it was School Board or any other office. It's not a situation where you have to resign to run. The School Board term would end as the Senate term begins.
Was it a difficult decision to not run for School Board again?
When I first signed on for School Board, I wasn't sure where I would be in two years. … Did I have future aspirations to go to Tallahassee? Of course. Did I expect it to happen so soon? Not really. … I looked at the political climate of Florida. I saw how important education had become. … We're dealing with a situation where we've sort of been bailed out by the stimulus money. But that's going to run out. It's going to be a crucial time in the state of Florida. That's why I'm going to Tallahassee.
So you think you'll be in a position to do more for education as a state senator?
Yes. It's so frustrating when you work at the local level and your hands are constantly tied by the laws being created by a Legislature that is disconnected at the local level. On the local level, you're forced to be dictated by individuals who do backdoor deals, who are not transparent, who I believe do not support public education. It's time, I believe, for somebody with new, fresh ideas to go up to Tallahassee, somebody who is passionate, somebody who understands how you're affected on a local level.
How will you manage your campaign, your job as an attorney in the Public Defender's Office, and your duties with the School Board?
I think it all fits together and works together. Everything that I do now is in the vein of what I'm passionate about. Being a public defender, I can't tell you how much training I've received in juggling. You have 50 balls in the air all the time. You learn to be a manager of your time, of your duties and your tasks. Anyone who works in this office understands that. I've been in a situation where I've dealt with case loads of over 200 clients.
Have you thought about stepping down from your School Board seat, especially since the district is dealing with some pretty tough issues at the moment that demand a lot of time and attention?
No. I'd never run away from a battle. That's not in my DNA.
Some of your critics say you used your School Board position as a stepping stone. What do you have to say to those people?
I'd say to them that my passion for community service did not start with being elected to the School Board. I have a history, nine or 10 years dealing with public service issues in the county. This is my passion. This is what I love to do. If being a public servant on the School Board was a fly-by-night thing, my past history would have revealed that, and it does not.