Crowded Pinellas School Board race keeps getting more partisan

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A Moms For Liberty pick, a couple of Democrats and a 'fake Republican' are all on the ballot.

With the hyperconservative groups Moms for Liberty flooding School Board races with candidates, those on the opposite end of the political spectrum are fighting back.

A fifth candidate recently entered the race for District 5 on the Pinellas County School Board, bringing the makeup of that race to one moderate Republican, two Democrats and two conservatives.

Dawn Douglas, the latest Democrat to enter what is technically a nonpartisan race, is running to thwart conservative efforts to remake school districts in their own image, telling the Tampa Bay Times that the community, state and nation “are in crisis because of insane leadership.”

Douglas filed for the race Jan. 30. The middle school teacher joins to conservative candidates — Stacy Geier and Bronson Oudshoff — fellow Democrat, middle school teacher and union member Brad DeCorte and Katie Blaxberg, a former legislative aide to Pinellas County Chris Latvala during his time in the House.

Moms For Liberty is backing Geier, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The crowded pack of candidates are running to replace Carol Cook, a moderate member who has served on the School Board for 24 years.

While Cook successfully avoided the type of conservative ire that would have put a target on her back, politically speaking, the race to replace her is still shaping up to be just as partisan as the two Pinellas School Board races that officially attracted conservative efforts to “flip” the board. Gov. Ron DeSantis listed School Board members Laura Hine and Eileen Long as targets for unseating this cycle. Both are seeking re-election.

Geier has openly said that she is running to “bring reinforcement” to “true conservatives” on the Board, according to the Times. Those conservatives include incumbent School Board members Stephanie Meyer and Dawn Peters.

School Board races are typically low-budget and low-profile, but that’s been changing since Moms for Liberty entered the fray, drawing attention to new conservative ideals regarding what they describe as parental choice (critics take issue with that description) and a host of book challenges.

For now, it’s not the Moms For Liberty candidate who is bringing the biggest bang financially to the race. That honor goes so far to Blaxberg, who has raised more than $17,000, according to the most recent finance reports. Geier has raised just shy of $10,000 while DeCorte has raised $2,400 and Oudshoff just $100. Douglas, having just filed for the race at the end of January, has not yet posted any fundraising totals.

Douglas is no stranger to campaigning, but she has yet to find success. She has run, and lost, three times for the Legislature, including two attempts to unseat Latvala from the House. Latvala is openly supporting his former staffer, Blaxberg.

And though she has backing from one of the most powerful Republicans in the county, Blaxberg has been accused by Geier and Moms for Liberty Pinellas head Angela Dubach of being a “fake Republican.”

Dubach noted that she changed her party affiliation to Republican “right before she filed” for the School Board race. Blaxberg was registered as a Republican until July 2019 when she changed party affiliation to Democrat. She changed it again, back to Republican, on March 2, 2023, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office. Blaxberg filed for the School Board race about two months later, on May 10.

Still, Blaxberg says she supports DeSantis’ education agenda, including his parental rights in education bill. Her website touts her stance on parental rights, noting that she will always stand up for them “because she believes that, regardless of your political affiliation, parents know what is best for their children.”

Considering her early funding advantage and the inherent advantage that comes with Latvala’s support, Blaxberg may have an edge over the field of candidates, which could still get bigger.

The district covers north-central Pinellas and has Republican advantage in voter registration, with more than 56,000 GOP voters compared to just over 43,000 Democratic voters. But there are more than 39,000 unaffiliated voters in the district, meaning Blaxberg may be employing a successful campaign strategy — one that appeals to conservative voters by touting parental rights in education, without overtly promoting partisanship from the dais.

Cook, herself a registered Republican, has not endorsed a preferred successor, but has openly chided those who want to see the Board become more conservative and anyone who claims the existing Board is liberal, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

With incumbents on the ballot in the other two districts up for election this year — Hines’ at large District 1 and Long’s north county District 4 — those races are not as crowded. But both include Moms for Liberty-backed candidates. Danielle Marlof is running against Hine while Erika Picard is running against Long.

Dubach said that if all three of her group’s preferred candidates win, the Board would flip from a 5-2 majority for liberals (again, Cook contends that’s not an accurate description of the Board’s makeup) to a 5-2 majority for conservatives.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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