School board races: Most DeSantis-endorsed candidates have come out on top

By: - August 24, 2022 4:30 am

Classroom. Credit: Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ unprecedented school board race endorsements have paid off: Most of his selected school board candidates appear to have won, according to a Phoenix analysis of unofficial vote counts reported by county election officials.

Though the results are not yet been finalized, they indicate a future of increased partisanship, unlike the traditional nonpartisan school board races of the past.

So far, out of DeSantis’ 30 endorsed candidates, 19 appear to have won their races and five lost on primary night. The other six appear to be either in runoff situations or advancing to the general election based on election data and local coverage.

The Republican governor sent shockwaves when he announced a list of local school board candidates that he had endorsed ahead of the 2022 Florida primaries. It was unprecedented for a Florida governor to weigh in on local races.

The DeSantis campaign worked hard to get his endorsed candidates elected. That included financial contributions, social media posts about the races, and speaking at campaign rallies, the Phoenix previously reported.

DeSantis intended to place school board members that support his “education agenda,” which has a major conservative bent that involves limiting certain teachings of American history and race, banning certain discussion of LGBTQ+ matters, and restricting which books are hosted in school libraries.

Voters arrive at a primary-election-day polling place –the Tallahassee Elks Lodge — in the state capital of Florida. Aug. 23, 2022. Credit: Diane Rado

And the unofficial Tuesday results indicated success in his plan. However, there were a handful of DeSantis’ candidates who fell behind, according to the unofficial results.

At a press gaggle Tuesday, following a state Cabinet meeting, DeSantis expressed optimism about the efforts he and his team have made to boost the profile of his selected candidates.

“We’ve, you know, made an effort to help folks who are running for school board, because we think that that’s something that’s important,” DeSantis said. “I think you’re gonna see a lot of them be able to be successful.”

DeSantis, himself, is up for reelection this year, though he did not face off against a primary Republican opponent.

Because races are non-partisan, many school board races were determined by the Tuesday votes, so long as there are only two candidates in the running. Meanwhile, other races will be finalized in the November elections.

Florida law requires there be at least five board members per school district, though not all were up for grabs in the Tuesday primary.

DeSantis wasn’t the only one who made endorsements on school board races. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist endorsed seven races.

For Crist, two of his selected candidates won their races, two lost, and three appear to be runoff situations.

The Phoenix has selected a handful of races to focus on for the primary election:

Sarasota County School Board

Three Sarasota school board positions were up for election in 2022. DeSantis endorsed a candidate in each race.

And according to a Phoenix analysis of unofficial results from the Sarasota Supervisor of Elections website, three DeSantis-backed candidates will soon sit on the Sarasota County School Board.

School board incumbent Bridget Ziegler, one of the co-founders of a conservative group called Moms for Liberty, received 56.60 percent of the votes in her District 1, winning her race. That’s 69,655 votes in her district out of a total 123,629 ballots casted.

Robyn Marinelli, a former educator, has received 53.05 percent of the votes in her District 4, with 57,770 votes out of 122,499 in her district.

And Timothy Enos, who has a law enforcement background and experience as a school resource officer, has won in his race in District 5 with 52.75 percent of the votes, or 64,501 out of 122,272 total votes, according to the unofficial election results from the Sarasota County election officials.

Hillsborough County School Board

In two different Hillsborough school board races, Gov. DeSantis and Rep. Crist endorsed opposing candidates, and the unofficial results of the primaries are a mixed bag, according Phoenix analysis of unofficial election results.

In District 6 in Hillsborough, incumbent board member Karen Perez, who has Crist’s endorsement, has received 50.71 percent of votes in her district, which is about 108,421 votes. There were three candidates in this race, but with more than 50 percent of the votes, Perez will stay on the Hillsborough School Board, the unofficial results indicate.

Meanwhile, DeSantis-backed candidate Aly Legge, who has spoken at some of DeSantis’ press conferences in support of limiting certain classroom instruction on race and history, received 80,149 votes, or 37.59 percent in District 6.

The third candidate, Roshaun Gendrett, received the remaining 11.71 percent of the votes in District 6.

On the other hand, in District 2, incumbent board member Stacy Hahn, endorsed by DeSantis, has taken the lead in her race with 63.76 percent of the votes, easily nabbing the school board win with 31,731 votes.

Her opponent, Damaris Allen, a former Hillsborough PTA president, received 36.24 percent of the votes, which is about 18,038 votes. Allen was endorsed by Crist.

Indian River County School Board

District 2 in Indian River County has a school board race with four candidates, one which was supported by DeSantis, and another who was endorsed by Crist.

In this race, school board incumbent Jacqueline “Jackie” Rosario, endorsed by DeSantis, is currently leading with 46.82 percent of the votes, receiving 17,099 votes.

Meanwhile, Cynthia “Cindy” Gibbs received the second highest percentage of voters with 26.38 percent, or 9,633 votes, LaDonna Corbin got 17.46 percent. And Josh Post, got 9.35 percent.

The top two vote getters will be in a runoff, according to TC Palm. But one is Rosario, a DeSantis endorsed candidate, and the other is Gibbs, a Crist endorsed candidate.

Alachua County School Board

DeSantis backed only one candidate in Alachua County, but that seat has a tumultuous history from the COVID pandemic.

Last year, DeSantis filled a vacancy on Alachua’s School Board. He declared the seat vacant on June 17 through an executive order citing the former school board member, Diyonne McGraw, as not living in the district she was elected to represent.

Currently filling the vacancy for District 2 is Mildred Russell, who has been a long-time Republican player. She worked with the Alachua Republican Party and served as a state committeewoman for the Alachua County Republicans for 10 years, before stepping down in 2016, according to the local party website. She got 43 percent and 21,709 votes.

Her opponent: Diyonne McGraw, the former board member who DeSantis removed, got 56.96 percent and 28,743 votes.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.