Partisan involvement is increasing in nonpartisan politics including school board, municipal and judicial races, and another sign appeared last week in the Hillsborough County school board officer elections.
Local Democrats have objected to the election of Republican Stacy Hahn as school board vice-chairman.
The Board is nonpartisan, and candidates and members don’t represent parties. But local parties back their members for the positions, viewing them as steppingstones to higher, partisan offices.
In the election, the board used paper ballots instead of a voting machine and didn’t immediately announce who voted for Hahn over Democrat Karen Perez.
County Democratic Party Chair Ione Townsend said a lawyer representing the party has lodged an objection with the school board over what she said is a Sunshine Law violation.
She acknowledged the party favored Perez for partisan reasons and because the board should have a Hispanic in a leadership position.
“For me it is political,” she said. “The Republicans were unwilling to share power last term. Now we have a 5-2 majority and Democrats belong in both those seats,” chairman and vice-chairman.
Chairman Lynn Gray, a Democrat, nominated Hahn — but she acknowledged that partisan considerations figured in.
“My first concern is that the public support us,” she said. “We need to have a broad appeal” as well as a savvy board representative facing the public.
Gray added that the vice-chairman has few substantive duties.
School board attorney Jim Porter said there was no Sunshine Law violation because the paper ballots were signed and available as public records.
Board members Henry “Shake” Washington, Gray, Hahn and Melissa Snively, a Republican, voted for Hahn. Democrats Perez, Nadia Combs and Jessica Vaughn voted for Perez.
Gray and Porter both said the school board has used the paper ballot voting method in the past in contested chairman and vice-chairman elections.
“This is just a method of doing it so it’s still public but they can’t be influenced by each other’s votes,” Porter said. “It’s not a legal issue in my mind.”