Tampa Bay voters, at least the few who went to the polls, sent a clear message Tuesday that they want strong, progressive leadership in public education. In Hillsborough County, voters kept on a steady upward path by re-electing two School Board incumbents who have embraced smart reforms. In Pasco County, voters switched school superintendents and elected popular Kurt Browning, the former secretary of state. And in Pinellas, voters demanded better as two incumbent School Board members were forced into runoff elections in November.
Hillsborough School Board incumbents Doretha Wynn Edgecomb and Susan Valdes defeated more conservative challengers who wanted to sidetrack reforms backed by Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and the Gates Foundation. In Pasco, Browning easily defeated incumbent Superintendent Heather Fiorentino and can lead the district in a more positive direction. The Pinellas School Board also should be headed in a better direction. Former St. Petersburg City Council member Rene Flowers finished far ahead of incumbent Glen Gilzean, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott and barely forced a runoff. Another incumbent, Janet Clark, also is headed to a runoff election in November.
In Hillsborough, the results brought the best possible outcomes almost across the board. Property Appraiser Rob Turner was turned out of office after 16 years in the wake of an office porn scandal. Republican Ronda Storms, a state senator who made Turner's personal problems the centerpiece of her campaign, now must offer more substance in the general election campaign against Democrat Bob Henriquez, a former legislator.
In addition to re-electing the two School Board incumbents, Hillsborough voters elected an energetic newcomer to the board and sent another strong incumbent, Carol Kurdell, to a runoff in November. The results will bring a welcome mix of stability and attention to detail. Voters also brought some parental supervision to their picks for the Legislature. Former Senate President Tom Lee beat Rep. Rachel Burgin in a heated Republican primary for an east Hillsborough Senate seat. And Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist beat a challenge by a tea party newcomer to win re-election, while Craig Latimer won the Democratic primary for supervisor of elections after helping turn around an office that was a laughingstock only fours ago.
Hillsborough voters also made the best choices in races for the judiciary, retaining three local judges and electing Frances Maria Perrone outright in a race among three newcomers for an open seat. The results continue the county's progress in building a more professional judiciary.
In Pinellas, incumbent Sheriff Bob Gualtieri's easy win over former Sheriff Everett Rice in the Republican primary was a vote for the future instead of the past. Gualtieri, who was just appointed last year after Jim Coats retired, has smartly reduced spending to reflect declining revenues and effectively led efforts to deal with the homeless. Even amid the spending cutbacks, arrests are up and the crime rate is down.
Republican incumbent legislators also had a good night in Pinellas on Tuesday as voters stuck with familiar names. Reps. Peter Nehr of Palm Harbor and Ed Hooper of Clearwater, and Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater easily won their primaries, as did former Rep. Frank Farkas in St. Petersburg. In one of the state's most watched legislative races, Republican Rep. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg outspent and outdistanced Rep. Jim Frishe for an open state Senate seat. Now Brandes should clearly say whether he supports Latvala for Senate president in 2016 or whether he will be beholden to more conservative senators from elsewhere in the state.
There was one other clear message Tuesday night aside from Tampa Bay voters embracing progressive public education leaders and familiar names. Pinellas still has work to do in running smooth elections. Computer problems delayed election results and raised more questions about preparations by Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, who has a history of overseeing bumpy election nights.