Joe Gruters and Spencer Roach are again pushing for partisan school board races

governor Ron DeSantis had notable success this year with statewide endorsements from the school board. Does that mean voters are hungry for more education policies?

Sponsors behind an attempt to bias the school board’s race have resubmitted legislation and see a better chance of the bill getting the floor in this session.

Sen. Joe Grutersa Republican from Sarasota filed Monday (SJR 94) which would put the matter to voters. representative Spencer Roach accompanying legislation submitted (HJR 31) in the house earlier this month.

Since voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1998 that requires school board races to be impartial, it will take another voter-approved amendment to turn competitions back into party affairs. If passed in the Legislature, voters would get their say in a statewide referendum in 2024, and if passed, the 2026 Florida school board election would be partisan.

But Gruters, also state chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said it’s an illusion that party politics don’t already play a role in competitions.

“These elections are clearly partisan and voters deserve a transparent process,” he said.

In his own Sarasota district this year, a new majority won the school board election after the victorious candidates campaigned openly on conservative platforms, backed by Gov. DeSantis.

Roach also sees that politics already play a role in racing. In his opinion, the impartial airing of competitions only shields candidates from disclosing their political values ​​to voters.

“Why allow candidates to hide their party affiliation?” he asked.

Notably, state law prohibits candidates for bipartisan office from identifying to voters as Republican or Democrat, although they can list involvement in their party as part of their qualifications. There is nothing to prevent outside bodies, including the parties themselves, from making the political affiliations of candidates known.

The bill, as written, would result in school board elections being conducted much like any other party competition. That means the nominees would be decided in the primaries, and common tactics like closing the primaries with candidates written in would likely come into play.

But Roach said voters who don’t want parties to control the election will be empowered by the proposed change, as will partisan forces. He notes that Republican Lee County had a member of the school board Mary Fisher, eight years later, who was not registered with a political party. The county also just re-elected Debbie Jordanwho is a registered Democrat and won despite fierce campaigning against her by Republican leaders this year.

He said partisan elections simply educate voters about the candidates’ political values.

Does that mean more Democrats will be elected to the Broward County school board and more Republicans in Lee? Probably, but then voters who want to get politics out of the school district can see on the ballot which voters are also independent.

“With my bill, you know who the NPA is on the ballot,” he said.

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Callan Tansill

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