Conservative Coalition Sweeps School Board Contests

Todays News

A coalition of conservative School Board candidates backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis swept School Board races in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Despite Republicans suffering a turnout disadvantage in early voting before polls opened for the Aug. 23 primary, voters shows up in force to cast their ballots in person the day of the election. That helped School Board Member Bridget Ziegler win re-election to a third full term, and also carried political allies Robyn Marinelli and Tim Enos into two other seats on the board. The group in November will now hold majority status as soon as new officials are sworn in.

“The Community has spoken and it is crystal clear — they are demanding a reset of the School Board,” Ziegler said. “And that’s exactly what they are going to get. Taxpayers will be appreciated. Parents will be respected and involved. Teachers will be respected and supported.

"Kids will be protected and served. And our School District will get the focus back to our mission - educating our children!”

In Manatee, Chad Choate, who was appointed by DeSantis to the School Board last year, won a full term. Richard Tatem, meanwhile, unseated James Golden from his District 5 seat on the board. Cindy Spray led Harold Byrd in a three-person race for the open District 2 seat and both will advance to a November runoff.

Regionally, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, easily fended off a primary challenge from Martin Hyde, winning a higher percentage of the vote than he ever received in a contested primary. 

State Sens. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, and Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, both won universal primaries open to all voters and secured four-year terms in the Florida Senate. Gruters said he was “thankful to all the voters from all parties for the overwhelming victory and support.”

County Commission races also generated surprises in both counties. After a contentious and often personal campaign season in Manatee, long-time County Commissioner Carol Whitmore was defeated in a countywide Republican primary by newcomer Jason Bearden, while challenger Mike Rahn unseated County Commissioner Misty Servia in a primary in District 4. Both will face write-in opposition only in November. County Commissioner Reggie Bellamy won a rematch with Charles Smith in a Democratic Primary and advanced to a November fight with Republican Amanda Ballard.

"The voters have spoken and they want a conservative who will represent their values on the county commission,” Bearden said. “I will fight for term limits, lower taxes and for all the conservative principles I ran on. I'm humbled by the overwhelming victory and will work everyday to improve Manatee's quality of life."

In Sarasota, the biggest surprise may have come with Fredd Atkins, a former Sarasota Mayor, winning the Democratic Primary for County Commission in District. An off-year redistricting scheme shut down a candidacy for Atkins in 2020, prompting him to sue but ultimately losing in court. This year, he ran for the first time for a county seat with more Democrats than Republicans registered, and he defeated better financed candidates in Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody and activist Mike Cosentino.

“You cannot buy respect. You can’t buy tradition. You can’t buy a history of a man who has been consistently and persistently fighting for your way of life,” Atkins said. “That’s where we are. We have lived this. We have been disinherited all of our history in Sarasota County. Now finally there is a chance to sneak by and get into the general election.”

In the general election, he will face Mark Smith, who won a Republican primary against Lourdes Ramirez. In the more conservative District 4, Joe Neunder handily won a GOP primary and will face Democrat Daniel Kuether in November.

As for the City of Sarasota race, three candidates advanced from the August first election: incumbent Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, Debbie Trice and Dan Lobeck. In a six-person race where voters could vote for two candidates, Ahearn-Koch dominated with 34.72% of all votes cast. Trice took 19.51% of votes and Lobeck had 19.13%. In November, the top two vote-getters of the three will win seats on the City Commission.

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