Following DeSantis, Democrat Charlie Crist makes his own school board race endorsements

The gubernatorial candidate acted to counter a Republican push for conservative board takeovers.
Congressman Charlie Crist speaks on stage during the Leadership Blue Gala for the Florida Democratic Party on July 16 in Tampa.
Congressman Charlie Crist speaks on stage during the Leadership Blue Gala for the Florida Democratic Party on July 16 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published July 20, 2022|Updated July 21, 2022

Charlie Crist has seven school board candidates across Florida he’d like you to consider supporting.

The U.S. representative and former state education commissioner, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, announced his endorsements less than a week after Gov. Ron DeSantis released a second round of board hopefuls that he’s backing.

Crist’s decision to make these endorsements is the latest signal that school board races, typically lower-profile and down-ballot affairs, are receiving heightened partisan attention from both voters and elected officials.

Crist said he made his move to counter the strong Republican push, exemplified in the recent Moms for Liberty conference in Tampa, to seed school boards with social conservatives. DeSantis spoke at the event, where he received the group’s endorsement.

Related: At Moms for Liberty event in Tampa, a push to win school board elections

“Gov. DeSantis is politicizing our classrooms, taking away parental rights, and limiting Florida students’ freedom to learn,” Crist said in a news release. “Florida deserves dedicated public servants on our school boards that won’t inject politics into the classroom, but rather work everyday to fight for the best interests of our students and educators.”

Crist on Wednesday endorsed three sitting school board members who are running for reelection: Karen Perez in Hillsborough County’s District 6 race, Debbie Jordan in Lee County and the Rev. Eric Cummings in Marion County.

He also endorsed four other candidates: Sara Jones in Polk County, Cindy Gibbs in Indian River County, Damaris Allen in Hillsborough County and Brian Martin, who is running for the District 6 seat on the Pinellas County School Board.

This past spring, Republican lawmakers proposed converting school board elections to partisan affairs. Sen. Joe Gruters, also chairman of the state GOP, argued that even though the races are officially nonpartisan, the campaigns are becoming less so every year.

He suggested voters deserve more official transparency. The proposal died without sufficient support from either party, with the Legislature instead setting 12-year term limits for board members.

But the idea did not fade, with DeSantis and now Crist taking steps to highlight which board candidates represent their ideals for education policy.

Former Alachua County superintendent Carlee Simon, who fought DeSantis over masking and later lost her job, also recently launched a political action committee supporting board candidates who she said will fight for public education and not corporate interests.

Times Political Editor Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.

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