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Hillsborough teachers pile into legislative races

So far, political leaders and teacher’s union officials don’t have evidence of a similar national or statewide surge of teacher-candidates — only in Hillsborough. | William March
Amanda Linton, English teacher at Strawberry Crest High and a first-time candidate, is filed for the Senate District 21 seat being vacated by term-limited Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. [Courtesy of Amanda Linton]
Published Sep. 26
Updated Sep. 27

In an echo of last year’s record-setting national wave of teachers seeking elective office, at least four public school teachers plan to seek state legislative seats in Hillsborough County in 2020.

All are Democrats who say they’re running at least in part because of what they consider disrespect for their profession or inadequate support for public education by the state Legislature.

Laurie Rodriguez-Person, an exceptional education teacher at various schools and first-time candidate, has said she plans to file for a primary against Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa. [Courtesy of Laurie Rodriguez-Person]

So far, political leaders and teacher’s union officials don’t have evidence of a similar surge of teacher-candidates this year at the state or national level — only in Hillsborough. But they said with more than a year before the 2020 election, it’s too early to say whether the 2018 wave will be repeated.

Scott Hottenstein of Lithia, social studies teacher and department head at Rodgers Middle and 2018 county teacher of the year finalist, ran for the school board last year and is now filed against Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Valrico. [Courtesy of Scott Hottenstein]

Some of the Hillsborough teachers are first-time candidates in GOP-leaning districts, likely underdogs. But most said even if they lose, they felt a need to do something about their education concerns.

Jessica Harrington, a Sergeant Smith Middle School civics teacher who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, in 2018, is filed to run again. [Courtesy of Jessica Harrington]

The candidates:

  • Jessica Harrington of Odessa, a Sergeant Smith Middle School civics teacher who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, in 2018, is filed to run again.
  • Scott “Mr. H” Hottenstein of Lithia, social studies teacher and department head at Rodgers Middle and 2018 county teacher of the year finalist, ran for the school board last year and is now filed against Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Valrico.
  • Amanda Linton, English teacher at Strawberry Crest High and a first-time candidate, is filed for the Senate District 21 seat being vacated by term-limited Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
  • Laurie Rodriguez-Person of Tampa, an exceptional education teacher at various schools and first-time candidate, has said she plans to file for a primary against Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa.

Harrington said she’s done research and doesn’t believe even three teachers have ever run simultaneously for Hillsborough legislative seats.

Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, state House Democratic campaign leader, said it’s rare for working teachers to run because the Legislature’s fall-to-spring schedule forces unpaid leaves many teachers can’t afford, considering the part-time legislative salaries.

“I think I’ve served with more morticians than teachers,” he said.

Last year, following a multi-state wave of teacher protests and walk-outs over low pay and education funding, a record 1,800 teachers, former teachers and other educators ran for public office, most for state legislative seats, said the National Education Association teacher’s union. That included 28 in Florida.

“For too long, non-educator politicians have been ignoring the voices of educators,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in an email. “Over the past two years, thousands of educators have stood up to say enough.”

Tax collector candidates lining up

As of early this week, two Democrats had announced candidacies to replace Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden: former veteran school board member April Griffin and Nancy Millan, director of community relations in Belden’s office.

Nancy Millan, director of community relations in Doug Belden’s office, has announced her candidacy for tax collector. [Courtesy of Nancy Millan]

A third, former state House candidate Debra Bellanti, announced she won’t run.

The GOP picture was murkier — lots of buzz but no announcements.

Belden, a Republican, suffering from ill health and limited mobility, had gone back and forth on whether he would seek re-election in 2020. Shortly after Griffin told him she intended to run against him, he announced a decision not to.

But he denied her opposition was the reason, saying he’d made the decision weeks earlier. Belden said he intends to return the campaign money he’s raised, almost $212,000, to donors.

Belden’s decision, plus county Commissioner Les Miller’s announcement that he will retire after 2020 because of health problems instead of running for clerk of court, has stirred the county’s political pot.

Among Republicans, state Sen. Tom Lee and county Commissioner Sandy Murman, both subjects of speculation, each said they wouldn’t rule out the tax collector’s race but weren’t ready to announce a decision. Commissioner Ken Hagan didn’t respond to messages for comment.

But the clerk’s office might look better to Murman than tax collector. Murman, term-limited in 2020, filed for clerk before Miller announced he would run, but then said she wouldn’t run against him and supported him. With Miller out of the race, her options look open.

Lee and Hagan both have terms through 2022.

ERAwkward?

With conservative opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment still significant, but women’s political activism growing, the ERA is proving an awkward subject for some local Republicans.

Kim Porteous, president of Florida NOW, says state Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, has committed to supporting ERA ratification by the Legislature and working with its House sponsor, Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa. “We’re very pleased,” Porteous said. “I don’t know when we’ve had a Republican supporting it.” But Toledo wouldn’t respond to messages seeking confirmation of that.

When the county commissioners approved a resolution urging ratification Sept. 5, the vote was 6-0, with Republican Commissioner Stacy White absent. White was present for most of the meeting, including the items immediately before and after the ERA, but left the dais during the ERA discussion and vote. Through a spokeswoman, he called it “a mistimed bathroom break,” but didn’t say how he would have voted.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com

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