Saturday, August 18, 2018

Pasco teachers union won’t endorse before primaries

Two weeks after all but one of the candidates for Pasco County School Board sat for interviews, the United School Employees of Pasco has declined to recommend any of them.

The District 1 and District 3 races each have three candidates, while District 5 has four hopefuls.

"We're going to wait until after the primary," USEP president Don Peace said.

That strategy could leave the union voiceless in backing its preferred candidates, if voters settle the matter on Aug. 28. It's been known to happen.

Most notably of late, Joanne Hurley faced two well-known and connected community leaders in 2008 for the District 2 seat, which incumbent Marge Whaley had vacated. Despite expectations of a runoff, Hurley reaped 55.6 percent of the vote, and walked into the seat.

Peace acknowledged that such a scenario could play out again. Still, he said the USEP political action committee decided it would have more say after the slates are winnowed down.

He noted that in other instances, races with three or more candidates did not see anyone receive a majority, leaving the top two vote-getters to face off again in the general. In 2010, for example, all three seats up for election went to a runoff.

That included District 5, which had three hopefuls and ultimately was won by Steve Luikart, who served two terms and is now retiring.

Tara O'Connor, one of four seeking to replace Luikart, stood nearby as Peace explained his position to the Gradebook. She expressed disappointment at the move, and wondered why the USEP might wait.

No one from the organization offered further explanation. Speculation has circulated on a couple of possibilities. Among them:

– The District 5 race features two current teachers who are USEP members. Perhaps the USEP did not want to pick one over the other, or did not want to be seen siding with neither.

– District 1 and District 3 have incumbents seeking new terms. Perhaps the USEP did not want to alienate the incumbents by recommending an opponent, or side with an incumbent with whom the USEP does not agree on some key issues.

That has not stopped the USEP from recommending in the past.

USEP Tiger Pride made $500 contributions to several board candidates in past years before the primary election. It also had its sister organizations in other counties send donations to those candidates.

This year, though, the group has different leadership. And it has put a lid on campaign support through the primary.

If any races remain after Aug. 28, the USEP expects to weigh in then.

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