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East Hillsborough School Board race has conservative focus

Terry Kemple, 68, possibly Hillsborough’s best-known Christian conservative activist, ran districtwide for the School Board twice and lost, although he notes that in 2012 he would have prevailed if the votes were confined to District 4.
Terry Kemple, 68, possibly Hillsborough’s best-known Christian conservative activist, ran districtwide for the School Board twice and lost, although he notes that in 2012 he would have prevailed if the votes were confined to District 4.
Published Sep. 21, 2014

BRANDON — There is a truism about eastern Hillsborough County: When it comes to politics, you can't tack too far to the right.

That adage is being tested this fall as Terry Kemple, possibly Hillsborough's best-known Christian conservative activist, makes his third run for the School Board.

He ran districtwide the first two times and lost, although he notes that in 2012 he would have prevailed if the votes were confined to District 4.

This time he is running in the land of the Bell Shoals Baptist superchurch and former state Sen. Ronda Storms, a district where the pro-family, anti-Obamacare Stacy White defeated two better-funded candidates in the August primary for a likely spot on the County Commission.

But Kemple, 68, takes it up a notch. He's spoken out against gay rights and Muslim advocacy. He called it a travesty that the schools teach evolution as fact. And he isn't just against the Common Core standards; he accused the state of trying to defraud the public on the issue.

So is Kemple too far to the right, even for east Hillsborough?

Already, he has been shown up by businesswoman Melissa Snively, who took 11,706 votes, compared to his 9,900, in the Aug. 26 primary.

"I certainly think Terry has a chance in the race," said White, the sitting School Board member who will be replaced by the winner.

Snively, an insurance agent, is well respected in the business community, he said. And her children go to school in the system. "So I think a lot of voters that are particularly interested in the School Board races would feel a connection with Melissa," he said.

"But Terry has been around politics for a long time. He is a conservative running in a conservative district."

Working the room at Tuesday's Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce Hob Nob, Snively, 44, insisted she can hold her own when it comes to traditional values.

"I'm a small-business owner," she said. "I advocate for the issues of small businesses. I've been married 15 years. I have four children in the public schools. I go to church. As a matter of fact, I volunteer for the Cub Scouts. I think my values and who I am are more representative of the community."

Snively won the straw poll, a result that surprised no one because she is a former chairwoman of the chamber. "This is my home court advantage," she said.

Kemple, while not at the event, was front and center before the County Commission on Wednesday morning in a last-ditch effort to thwart the domestic partners registry, which the board passed 7-0.

"There are four of you who voted against this bad policy in the past, and nothing has changed since then," he said, suggesting they were bullied into changing their minds in an election season. "This is really cynical, political manipulation."

Those who know both candidates say Kemple's sharp edges and pointed views can both help him and hurt him.

"I don't think that my ideas are out of the mainstream," he said in an interview. That view is shared by others.

"A lot of people probably would agree with his opinions," said Mark Proctor, a political consultant who considers both candidates friends and is working for neither. But he added that voters might wonder if the outspoken Kemple will be effective on a seven-member board.

Kemple, a business consultant, says he can collaborate with others who disagree with him — as proven by his work on the county's human rights task force — and his longevity gives him credibility.

"I've been doing this for 18 years," he said. "I have been a conservative, advocating for conservative principles, advocating for parent rights and children's rights for 18 years. And Melissa has not."

Rarely subtle, Kemple came out strongly against Common Core long before it became fashionable to raise alarms about the more rigorous teaching movement. He wasn't satisfied when Gov. Rick Scott's education department renamed the state's version the Florida Standards. At a speech in April, he accused the state of "subterfuge" and "chicanery," telling supporters, "they figure if they change the name and make it something else, the opposition will go away."

But Snively has also been consistently against Common Core. And although Kemple seized the issue early, Scott campaign worker Jonny Torres wonders if he did so too early, before most voters were even aware of the controversy. "A lot of people aren't fully educated about the standards," he said.

Snively has endorsements from the teachers' union, former superintendent Earl Lennard and both major newspapers. Kemple is backed by leaders of the tea party, the Tampa 912 Project and the pastors of Bell Shoals, the Hillsdale Baptist Church and the Plant City Church of God. (The churches themselves, in accordance with federal tax law, cannot endorse candidates.)

Snively has raised more money — $81,120, compared with $49,394 — with the two candidates raising nearly $10,000 combined in the past two weeks.

White said Snively's primary victory could give momentum to her campaign.

But he said a low-turnout primary is not a safe indicator of who will win in a general election in which voters will choose a governor and cast their votes on medical marijuana.

"Both are strong candidates in their own right," he said. "It might come down to whoever works the hardest and has the best ground game."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay. Follow @marlenesokol.