Republicans Endorsed School Board Candidates. Good.

Under The Hood

The Republican Party of Sarasota for the first time this election cycle issued endorsements in the nonpartisan School Board races. For the curious, incumbent School Board member Bridget Ziegler picked up the party’s official support as she seeks reelection to a seat in District 1, which is anything but a shock. Meanwhile, the party threw its backing to District 4 candidate Robyn Marinelli and District 5 candidate Chris Kruysman.

A statement from RPOS acting chair Jack Brill tries to signal the move in conjunction with compelling discourse surrounding education politics in Florida today. “This is historic,” Brill said. “We’re taking a very firm stand to stop Critical Race Theory and return the schools to the will of the people. A high quality, public education that is not politicized with hatred is essential for our future. We’re excited that these strong candidates will ensure that students are educated and not indoctrinated, and that parents will be heard regarding their children’s learning.”

I could write a whole column on the irony of using the buzzwords “Critical Race Theory” while decrying politicization of schools. For now, I’ll just point out censoring school curricula based on the manufactured outrage of the minute in fact strives for a different goal.

But I don’t want to criticize the party for taking a stance, as I’m sure many a “good government” voice will do. That happens any time political leaders make their voices heard in these supposedly nonpartisan races, as if being a part of an already organized political coalition should mean the mandatory erasure of one’s own influence on elections.

Political parties have no compelling reason to sit out elections. Indeed, I’d argue a failure to vet candidates would be a dereliction of responsibility.

Political parties serve many purposes, including engaging voters and keeping turnout high to help win elections. But they also serve as a gatekeeper; that’s a dirty word these days but an important role. We elect officials to do important jobs, and we need competent people to do them. Even before ideology comes into play, it serves value to have educated organizations judge if candidates are capable.

Ideology, of course, does play a role. Ideally, voters end up faced with a choice of qualified individuals and choose the one whose worldview and vision rides closest to their own. The view with the greatest support wins. That’s the democratic (with a small ‘d’) model that sets U.S. politics apart from the world.

Political parties, more than any other special interest engaged in an election, brings with it a combination of expertise and a specific agenda.

Personally, I’m glad Florida in the late 1990s turned School Board’s into nonpartisan bodies. I’m old enough to remember when qualified people in minority parties simply couldn’t win this office, and both voters in the minority party and those with no party at all ended up frozen out of the process completely. Frankly, you can see that process in play with county commissions to this day. Partisan elections limit participation and give a ridiculous edge to people who get a boost based on the letter by their name.

But that does not mean parties have no role to play. Typically, the ones who feel that way are those beholden to interests that wield sizable influence (neighborhoods, chambers, unions) but fear being at odds with a group that’s better organized and practiced at politics. Well, tough. Whether it’s Democrats thumbing the scales in city races or Republicans lobbying for seats on the one county board where they lack a majority, parties have a constituency and reason to engage.

Because whatever anyone says, public education inherently has been politicized. It happened the minute public funding was put behind schools and a board was designed to be accountable to the people through the power of elections.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

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