Joe Gruters, Spencer Roach renew push for partisan School Board races

The bill would put the question to voters in 2024.

Gov. Ron DeSantis enjoyed significant success with School Board endorsements statewide this year. Does that mean voters are hungry for more politics in education?

Sponsors behind an attempt to make School Board races partisan again filed legislation, and see a greater chance of the bill reaching the floor this Session.

Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, filed a bill Monday (SJR 94) that would put the matter to voters. Rep. Spencer Roach filed companion legislation (HJR 31) in the House earlier this month.

Because voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 requiring School Board races be nonpartisan, it will take another voter-approved amendment to change the contests back to party affairs. If the bill filed in the Legislature passes, voters would weigh in through a statewide referendum in 2024, and if it passed, elections for School Board in Florida would be partisan in 2026.

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

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

In his own Sarasota County, a new majority won election to the School Board this year after the winning candidates campaigned openly on conservative platforms with support from Gov. DeSantis.

Roach also sees politics already playing a role in races. As far as he’s concerned, the nonpartisan veneer on contests only shields candidates from disclosing their political values to voters.

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

Of note, state law actually prohibits candidates for nonpartisan office from identifying themselves to voters as Republicans or Democrats, though they may identify involvement in their party as part of their qualifications. Nothing stops outside bodies, including parties themselves, from publicizing the political affiliation of candidates.

The bill as written would have school board elections run similar to all other partisan contests. That means nominees would be decided in primaries, and widespread tactics like closing primaries with write-in candidates would likely come into play.

Roach, though, said voters who don’t want parties controlling elections will be empowered by the proposed change as much as partisan forces. He notes heavily Republican Lee County has had a School Board member, Mary Fischer, on it for eight years who was not registered with a political party. The county also just re-elected Debbie Jordan, who is a registered Democrat and won despite Republican leaders campaigning heavily against her this year.

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

Will that mean more Democrats elected to the Broward County School Board and more Republicans elected in Lee? Probably, but then voters who want politics out of the school district will be able to see on the ballot which voters are independent as well.

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

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]

One comment

  • More Toxic Politics

    December 20, 2022 at 12:17 pm

    This is the last thing we need. Politics are already extremely toxic in this state. Enough is enough. The Florida GOP needs to give it a rest.

Comments are closed.


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