School board races become partisan as DeSantis, Crist endorse candidates

Published: July 21, 2022 5:18 PM EDT

School board races are becoming partisan as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his opponent, former governor and current U.S. House Rep. Charlie Crist are endorsing candidates.

DeSantis, a Republican, is endorsing candidates who back his agenda, including two men in Lee County.

Typically, Florida governors do not get involved in school board races, which are supposed to be nonpartisan.

DeSantis has attacked superintendents for mandating masks. He supported and then signed the Parental Rights in Education law or the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.

DeSantis has endorsed political candidates before, but now he has set his sight on non-partisan school board elections.

In a tweet, DeSantis told voters the people he supports.

They all seemingly agree with his mission to make sure what he calls woke indoctrination never gets into Florida public schools.

For example, DeSantis has signed into law measures that ban critical race theory and social-emotional learning.

In Lee County, DeSantis is endorsing Sam Fisher, who is running to replace Mary Fischer.

Meanwhile, Crist is endorsing Debbie Jordan, who is running in Lee County.

“It’s not just the governor supporting me, as I said, I have, you know, parents and teachers and small business owners, grandparents, everyone supporting me,” Fisher said.

Fisher spoke to WINK News about the governor’s support.

Armor Persons, who the governor is also endorsing, declined to speak to WINK News.

Persons is running against Gwynetta Gittens.

“Does that make me nervous? Not at all because, number one, I know what I have done in the last three and a half years. Number two, I know the depth of my knowledge and experience and desire to do what’s best for children. And number three votes win races, not money, not signs, not even my billboards; votes win,” Gittens said.

People who study politics disagree.

“The short answer is in Republican counties, DeSantis endorsement and extra money could be the thing that puts these candidates over the top and helps them win,” said UCF political scientist Aubrey Jewett.

Jewett said Lee County is clearly a Republican county.

Carol Weissert, a retired USF political scientist, said the DeSantis endorsement will be important.

“I think that’s really going to be important this kind of cue taking, where if you don’t know what the person is really like, then you have to find some other reason to vote for him or her,” Weissert said.

How did Fisher and Persons earn DeSantis’ endorsement?

Fisher said it might have something to do with a survey he filled out on the governor’s campaign website.

“There’s a vetting process and anyone that was running for school board could apply for that,” Fisher said.

Weissert said that was very strategic of DeSantis.

“He’s very interested in, you know, what he would call make woke, woke candidates and woke school boards. And so, he wants to, you know, make sure that he doesn’t have that to deal with in Florida,” Weissert said.

Gittens knows about the survey but she didn’t fill it out.

“The minute I open up anything that has a survey or questionnaire, and they mentioned CRT, LGBTQ, any of that, abortion, I just closed it up,” Gittens said.

There are plenty of candidates who did not get a DeSantis endorsement.

For example, Jordan wants to keep her seat on the Lee County School Board.

She said she didn’t even know about the survey.

Her three opponents?

Gerri Ware refused to answer the questions.

Meanwhile, radio personality James “Big Mama” Jones took the survey and so did Dan Severson.

Severson didn’t get DeSantis’ endorsement, but he did receive donations.

“I believe there are things that we need to do to reform our education system, to put our kids first, put the parents back in charge, and then protect our kids in the school institution,” Severson said.

Severson has received campaign contributions from several Republican committees.

The Trump Club gave him $125. He received $100 from the Cape Coral Republican Club and $1,000 each from the Friends of Spencer Roacn and Just the Fact PAC.

“The extra money that these candidates are getting could really prove decisive in a number of races,” Jewett said.

Weissert said: “There are a lot of conservative groups that have education as a top priority, and they are willing to put their money in where their mouth is.”

WINK News asked Weissert if there is a danger in inserting politics into a nonpartisan race.

“I think we’ve already sort of inserted that into, into education, haven’t we,” Weissert said.