Two members of the Sarasota County School Board changed their voter registration. That marks the first time in years Democrats have controlled a majority of seats on the board.
School Board Chair Jane Goodwin and long-time member Caroline Zucker are both now registered Democrats. Goodwin filed paperwork to change her registration on Monday, while Zucker filed for a change of party with the state Division of Elections.
While the School Board is technically a nonpartisan office, both political parties have often played a big role in elections.
Goodwin said the move wasn’t coordinated with Zucker, and that it’s as much to do with national politics as local issues.
“It’s been on my heart for a while,” she said. ” The party has pretty much left me.”
Goodwin said the most conservative in her party have given her grief as she supported school tax referenda through the years. But she disagrees with state direction on public schools.
“I have a strong issues with what’s happening on state levels with publics schools,” she said, “but the real impetus was the fact I feels the Republicans have swing much farther to the right than I’m willing to go.”
While she voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, she wanted this year to participate in the Democratic primary for President. She’s looking at the centrist candidates like Mike Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Amy Klubuchar and Pete Buttigieg.
But some Republican leaders are saying good riddance to the moderates.
“For years, many members of the Republican Party – myself included – have been frustrated that Jane Goodwin and Caroline Zucker would campaign as registered Republicans, get elected as registered Republicans, and then vote with Democrats,” said Christian Ziegler, Republican Party of Florida Vice Chair. “Such as when they joined with the lone Democrat to provide our disgraced former Superintendent with a pay increase and protected him for months at the expense of the taxpayers, school district, teachers and students.”
“Some say that your team is only as strong as your weakest link. Well, if that’s the case, the Republican Party got a whole lot stronger without Goodwin and Zucker as registered Republicans.”
Ziegler’s wife, Bridget Ziegler, serves on the Sarasota County School Board as well.
Goodwin and Zucker have often sided with Shirley Brown, a former Democratic state Representative, on a variety of issues. All three are vocal opponents of school vouchers, as one example with state policy ramifications.
Zucker served as president of the Florida School Board Association at a time when the group was in legal battle with the state over school choice issues.
JoAnne DeVries, chair of the Democratic Party of Sarasota, said the School Board members had not coordinated with the party about any switch. But she indicated a welcoming posture from the party.
“I just heard abut it myself! I did reach out but have not heard from either one of them yet,” DeVries said.
“I don’t believe the change of registration is going to change the dynamics of the School Board. I’m sure they will continue to vote in the best interests of the teachers and students.”
Goodwin won reelection in 2018, topping a four-candidate field in the August primary that year.
Bridget Ziegler and Brown notably won tight reelection contests the same year.
Zucker last faced election in 2016, but she already announced she won’t seek another term. Goodwin also said she does not intend to seek another term.
Christian Ziegler said the Republican Party of Sarasota has endorsed incumbent Eric Robinson, a Republican, for reelection. The party will support Karen Rose, Brown’s 2018 opponent, in her run for Zucker’s open seat, where she faces David Graham.
Ziegler lashed out at party switchers.
“For the same reason we do not tolerate dishonesty from our kids, we shouldn’t tolerate it from our School Board Members,” he said.
Jack Brill, acting chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota, said he’s happy to see officials leave who don’t really represent the party’s values.
“Now we can make sure Republican voters know who they really are,” Brill said.
Notably, the party change was done just in time for both Goodwin and Zucker to vote in the Democratic presidential preference primary on March 17.