It hasn’t gotten much attention, but one of the candidates challenging Hillsborough School Board Chairman Nadia Combs is Layla Collins, the wife of freshman state Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, a protégé of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
If the 2022 election that brought Jay Collins into office is any indication, Layla Collins could get huge backing from Republican Party coffers and from DeSantis, who has vowed to remake Florida school boards.
Combs is one of four Pinellas and Hillsborough school board members DeSantis has said he’ll attempt to unseat in 2024. The others are Jessica Vaughn of Hillsborough and Eileen Long and Laura Hine of Pinellas. All but Hine now have Republican challengers filed in the non-partisan races.
“I know they’re going to spend an obscene amount of money — probably half a million to a million (dollars) — probably outspend me 50 to 1, to paint me as someone I’m not,” said Combs.
“I’ll just have to let the voters remember who I am and do a grass-roots effort. I’ll never be able to match their spending.”
Collins didn’t respond to phone, email and social media messages last week for comment.
She filed in August and hasn’t yet faced a campaign finance report deadline.
Her campaign treasurer is Noreen Fenner of Tallahassee, a prominent Republican campaign finance operative.
Fenner is listed in state records as treasurer for more than 230 active or former political committees including Jay Collins’s Quiet Professionals. She has managed campaign funds for numerous Republican legislators and at least one DeSantis-backed school board candidate who won a Flagler County seat last year in an election marked by accusations of dirty politics.
In 2022, Jay Collins initially filed to run against U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.
But four months before the election, with DeSantis’ backing, he switched to the state Senate race against then-incumbent Democrat Sen. Janet Cruz. Republican former state Rep. Shawn Harrison, already filed against Cruz, was forced to withdraw from the GOP primary.
The state Republican Party, with heavy backing from DeSantis’ PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis, spent more than $900,000 on advertising for Collins, according to federal records; he unseated Cruz. The Cruz campaign estimated the total spent against her at more than $3 million.
Combs’s northwest Hillsborough District 1 is about 36 percent Democrat to 30 percent Republican. In 2020, she easily beat Steve Cona, who outspent her more than 2-1.
Also filed in the race is Julie Magill.