1. News
  2. /
  3. Florida Politics
  4. /
  5. Elections

School choice, partisanship affect Pinellas school board race

Democrats have lined up behind Laura Hine, a former Republican who’s now a no-party registrant. while the county GOP has endorsed Stephanie Meyer.

School choice and partisanship appear to be at issue in the Pinellas County District 1 school board race —even though it’s a non-partisan race, neither candidate is a Democrat and both say they favor school choice.

The race is between Laura Hine, a museum director and public education activist, and Stephanie Meyer, a private school teacher.

The candidates aren’t allowed to run representing parties, but local Democrats have lined up behind Hine, formerly a Republican who’s now a no-party registrant, while the county Republican Party has endorsed and contributed to Meyer.

On her web site, Meyer says she’s an advocate of expanding what proponents call “school choice,” including charter schools and use of public education funding for private school tuition vouchers.

The web site also says Meyer wants to end teaching of what she called “revisionist history” in public schools. She couldn’t be reached by phone this week to elaborate, and didn’t respond by deadline to emailed questions.

Her web site doesn’t cite any past involvement in public education, but says her mother was a public school teacher.

Meyer has been endorsed by numerous prominent Pinellas Republicans, including incoming state House Speaker Chris Sprowls, other legislators and constitutional officers.

Hine, meanwhile, has backing from prominent Democrats, including Mayor Rick Kriseman, plus the Sierra Club and Equality Florida.

In an interview, she said Meyer is “trying to frame me as anti-choice, which I’m not ― I’m fine with good charter schools.”

But, she said, the state’s and district’s priority should be excellence in the traditional public schools most children attend, and that charter schools should receive the same oversight as public schools.

“I don’t think a child should have to win a lottery to get an excellent education,” she said. “We don’t want to focus on solutions that are at the edges, including vouchers and choice.”

Asked whether voucher programs should be expanded or cut, she said she has no objection to continuing voucher programs, but that the state is underfunding public education overall.

Five years ago, Hine founded a non-profit to boost her children’s elementary school, North Shore Elementary, after hearing neighbors say they didn’t want to send their children there. The school has a large proportion of students from poor families.

County Democratic Party Chair Barbara Scott said she thinks most Democrats will back Hine, but the party won’t be involved.

Dems voter advantage may aid Kemp

Hillsborough County Democrats appear to be heading into the general election with a larger voter registration advantage than they’ve had in recent history.

That could be good news for Democratic county Commissioner Pat Kemp, who’s seeking re-election in a competitive countywide race against Republican fellow Commissioner Sandy Murman.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp.

As of mid-week, the county had 358,828 registered Democrats and 285,305 Republicans — a Democratic advantage of 73,523 – plus 266,786 minor party or no-party registrants.

Over the last three election cycles, Democrats' advantage has varied from as low as about 57,000 up to about 68,000. In 2016, when Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the county by 52-45 percent, it was 68,077.

The deadline to register for the Nov. 3 election is Oct. 5.

Aided by contributions from the real estate development industry, Murman heads into the general election with a big financial advantage. As of August 21, she had about $217,129 in cash compared to about $104,032 for Kemp.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. CHRIS URSO | Times

Countywide races in Hillsborough, roughly the size of two congressional districts, are becoming costly. Depending on the voters being targeted, a single countywide mailer can cost $20,000 to $35,000.

It’s rare for two incumbent commissioners to face off, but Murman is seeking to move from a district seat to Kemp’s at-large seat. A former state House member, Murman has extensive name recognition and a moderate reputation that could bring her crossover or no-party votes.

Kemp, meanwhile, is the only one of the two who has won countywide and is highly popular among progressive Democrats.

Cohn says CD 15 could change WH outcome

Democrat Alan Cohn is making an unusual campaign pitch to supporters: The outcome of his Congressional District 15 race, he says, could determine whether President Donald Trump gets re-elected.

The reason is a scenario that increasingly concerns Democrats nationwide. It’s based on the possibility of 2000-style, post-election chaos caused by delayed counting of mail ballots, and on Trump’s perceived undermining of the U.S. Postal Service, his accusations of fraud in mail voting and his refusal to commit to accepting the election outcome.

Democrat Alan Cohn is making an unusual campaign pitch to supporters: The outcome of his Congressional District 15 race, he says, could determine whether President Donald Trump gets re-elected. [Photo courtesy of Alan Cohn]

The result could be failure by some battleground states to certify slates of Electoral College electors by the Dec. 14 deadline. Republican-controlled state legislatures like Florida’s might then put forward their own slates.

If the Electoral College can’t meet by the deadline, Congress could decide the election in a couple of ways, one of which would be a House vote with each state delegation casting one vote. Republicans currently control 26 delegations, a bare majority, including Florida’s.

But Florida’s delegation is split 14-13, and Cohn said national Democrats believe CD 15 is their best chance in the state to flip a seat, and thereby flip the majority. Depending on election outcomes in other states, that could be decisive in the presidential race, he said.

“Trump is laying the groundwork to claim election fraud, nullify the results, and steal the presidency,” Cohn said in a recent fundraising email to supporters. “Flipping FL-15 needs to be treated as every bit as important as the presidential race itself to safeguard our democracy.”

Asked how likely he thinks that scenario is, Cohn said, “If there’s anything we’ve learned over the last four years, it’s that we live in a time when anything can happen. Some very bright minds think it’s possible.”

Franklin again votes against mask ordinance

Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin, Republican nominee for the contested Congressional District 15 seat, continued his opposition last week to a mandatory mask ordinance in the city.

Franklin has consistently opposed a mask mandate.

Scott Franklin campaigns on election day in Lakeland, Tuesday Aug.18, 2020. ERNST PETERS/THE LEDGER [ ERNST PETERS | ERNST PETERS|THE LEDGER ]

This week, he was one of two dissenters as the commission voted 5-2 to extend through September a mask requirement for public indoor spaces.

“I don’t consider it the government’s role to mandate face coverings when it’s not absolutely necessary,” Franklin said in a written statement to the Times. “It’s a personal responsibility. … I’m not going to fine someone who refuses to protect themselves.”

Toledo hits DeSantis on vaping ban veto

In an unusual instance of criticizing her own party’s governor, state Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, is knocking Republican Gov. Ron Desantis’s veto of a bill Toledo pushed to ban sales of most flavored electronic-cigarette products and raise the smoking age from 18 to 21.

“I am disappointed in the Governor’s decision to veto SB 810 which had broad bipartisan support and support from the health care professionals,” Toledo said in a news release from her office. She added that vaping and smoking can make people more vulnerable to the COVID 19 virus.

Toledo faces a competitive re-election race with Democrat Julie Jenkins.