When Florida lawmakers return to Tallahassee, in January, they will be presented with a bill that will require those running in local school board elections to select a political party.
If the bill, introduced by Republican state Sen. Joe Gruters, passes, it will be put to voters next year as a constitutional amendment.
In the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Nov. 30, Gruters said, “It doesn’t matter what county you are in; these races are already partisan.”
He said Democratic and Republican activist organizations are “already choosing their favorites” in these elections–even though the candidates are running as non-partisan.
Gruters explained his proposal would end what he referred to as a “shell game.”
He said candidates with “partisan leanings” are running, but they can shield their “true political views” from Florida voters because they’re seeking a non-partisan office.
In 1998, Florida voted to make these contests non-partisan, with 64 percent in favor of the constitutional amendment.
During the meeting, Gruters said the backlash from certain school boards that Gov. Ron DeSantis received over blocking school mask mandates helped to create the legislation.
Increasing heat in discussions at school board meetings led to the FBI starting to track threats against school board members across the country.
This has brought much criticism from Republican lawmakers, who alleged that President Joe Biden’s administration was trying to “intimidate, or silence, parents” who speak up and object to school board policies.
Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would not work with federal agencies that sought to threaten, or intimidate, parents—and called it a “slap in the face to local law enforcement.”
Other committee members spoke out for, and against, the legislation.
State Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat, said adding partisan politics to local school board races was a bad idea.
Polsky said she did not agree with “the philosophy of ‘it’s already partisan, let make it more partisan.’
“I say tone it down,” she said during the committee meeting.
Sen. Lori Berman, also a Democrat, agreed.
“I really get discouraged when I see all this hyper-partisanship,” she said. “Why would we want to bring that back and make it even worse on our local school board levels?”
However, state Sen. Jennifer Bradley, a Republican, said she would welcome the change. “You’d let voters know where you stand.”
Dan Fisher, a self-described conservative running for a school board seat in Alachua County, said he thinks putting an “R” or “D” to your name would speak to a candidate’s “core beliefs.”
“I would hope that people would make decisions that are best for the kids and put party politics aside,” he said in a telephone interview.
However, Fisher had a problem with the way the measure was being put forth, because it would amend the state constitution.
“I have an issue with changing the state constitution.
“I feel that the legislators should vote to make it law, because there would be some form of accountability.”
He said that the general public sometimes does not do its homework on these amendments and “the long-term effects of a measure is unknown.”
After much discussion the legislation passed committee by 5-4 along party lines.
In order for the proposed measure to move forward in January it would need 60 percent approval in both the House and the Senate.
Then the proposed constitutional amendment would go before the voters in November 2022 and would need more than 60 percent of them to approve it to become law.