It goes without saying, unfortunately: If you enter politics, be prepared. It’s dirty, nasty, ugly and personal — even in non-partisan races.
Indeed, of all the local and regional races for the Nov. 4 general election, the nastiest and dirtiest is the contest for Sarasota County School Board District 1 between appointed incumbent Bridget Ziegler, 32, and longtime school district planner Ken Marsh.
It’s remarkable how presumably decent people descend into indecency.
Both sides have miscues. Gov. Rick Scott triggered the war when he appointed Ziegler to an open board seat. It clearly had the appearance of patronage. Scott rocked the local education establishment status quo — including the comfortable school board and, especially, the teachers’ union. And then, when Ziegler declared herself to be a fiscal conservative and in support of school vouchers, well, the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association decided: This is war. Boots on the ground.
A weapon of choice: the school district’s email system, which the union negotiated to use in its contract with the school board.
It’s legal, but it’s also lethal and has been abused. Lethal in the sense union leaders and members (e.g. teachers) have sent dozens and dozens and dozens of emails to their members denigrating Ziegler.
One: “She has no college degree … Has business experience selling Gucci handbags … Has parenting experience of 11 months.” Another referred to her as a “junior leaguer.” They have referred to her with disdain as a Tea Party member.
Long chains of emails went to union members with Ziegler’s list of contributors, a public record. Several Sarasota businesses called Ziegler’s campaign office to say they have received phone calls threatening boycotts of their businesses if they continued to donate or display Ziegler signs. Said one teacher’s email: “We will definitely not be supporting Gecko’s in the future.”
When you read through the dozens of emails, you see Sarasota County School District employees using school district time to send political emails. The district’s chief spokesman, Gary Leatherman, was the most egregious, helping write and edit letters for candidate Ken Marsh. These are violations of state law.
All Leatherman received was a “stop it.” But every abuser should be punished — otherwise it will persist.
Where is the school board on this? Here’s where: Board members Shirley Brown and Caroline Zucker used their emails to endorse and support Marsh. A majority of board members are on the same side as the teacher’s union.
If you were Ziegler, what would you do?
It’s politics. Ziegler notified the press to bring attention to the email abuses. Marsh complained last week that Ziegler has engaged third-party political groups to attack him with “robocalls, Internet blogs, mailers and newsletters.”
Yes, outside political groups have swooped in with media spending against Marsh. Asked whether Ziegler herself brought in the outsiders, her husband, Christian, said: “No. We can’t control what they do.”
All of this nastiness takes away from what really matters: Which candidate would be the better representative for taxpayers, parents and students on the Sarasota County School Board?
In the primary, we were undecided and supported Marsh and Ziegler.
Marsh convincingly has better credentials and experience, having served 35 years in public education and serving the Sarasota County School District as the head of long-range planning. We previously said no one knows more about the inner and outside workings of the school district.
Marsh would serve taxpayers well.
But so would Ziegler. Here’s the difference: Marsh represents old Sarasota public-school status quo. If he is elected the board will consist of four like-minded establishmentarians and Frank Kovach.
Ziegler represents the next generation and an outlier among the old hands. She will question authority and the status quo and bring a new perspective to the board.
Yes, she is young. But she can serve as a much-needed pathbreaker for a new generation of leaders in Sarasota. It’s time for the next generation of leaders to begin emerging in Sarasota. Give her credit for stepping up.
What’s more, what harm can she do? If she’s too unconventional, she’ll always be out-voted.
In the end, what bubbles under the surface of this race are the actions of the teachers union. It’s no surprise, it has put its full force into defeating Ziegler. As Pat Gardner, president of the union, told one of her members in an email: “My job is to protect your income.”
But the fact the union so forcefully favors Marsh may be enough to sway voters to say: It’s not healthy to have a majority of board members regarded as friends and supporters of the union.
Tough choice: Marsh is qualified; the union taints him. Ziegler helps the district look to the future.
DISTRICT 6 AT LARGE — The contest between incumbent Carol Whitmore and challenger Terri Wonder has featured its moments of contentiousness.
Wonder has tried to make this a referendum on one vote — Whitmore’s support of a portion of the proposed Long Bar Pointe development.
But over the past eight years, Whitmore has built a formidable track record as a pragmatic, balanced commissioner. No one can question that she has the best interests of taxpayers at heart. While mindful of the envionment, she also recognizes the importance of individual property rights, low taxes, low regulation and economic growth.
MANATEE SCHOOL BOARD
DISTRICT 5 AT LARGE — Our view has not wavered from the primary election, when we supported incumbent Julie Aranibar.
While her opponent, Mary Cantrell, former director of the Manatee Technical Institute, earned many bonafides for her leadership there, and there is no doubt Cantrell could serve competently, here’s one of the major differences: Cantrell has not expressed full support for Superintendent Rick Mills. Aranibar has.
This remains a crucial time for the Manatee School District to continue the work that Aranibar and Karen Carpenter began four years ago.
District 16 — Vern Buchanan
Governor — Rick Scott
Attorney General — Pam Bondi
Chief Financial Officer — Jeff Atwater
Agriculture Commissioner — Adam Putnam
Amendment 1 — No
Amendment 2 — No
Amendment 3 — No
District Court of Appeal
(Shall these judges be retained?)
Judge Chris W. Altenbernd — Yes
Judge Morris Silberman — Yes
Judge Daniel Sleet — Yes
County Commissioner District 6 - At Large — Carol Whitmore
School Board District 5 — Julie Aranibar
Mosquito Control District, District 1 — Ralph C. Garrison
Mosquito Control District, District 2 — Tim Matthews
Florida House District 72 — Ray Pilon
County Commission District 2 — Paul Caragiulo
County Commission District 4 — Alan Maio
School Board District 1 — Bridget Ziegler
Charter Review Board District 1 — Steven Fields
Charter Review Board District 2 — Richard Dorfman
Charter Review Board District 3 — Joe Justice
Charter Review Board District 4 — James Gabbert
Charter Review Board District 5 — Bruce Dillon
Sarasota Soil & Water Conservation District Group 3 — Todd Underhill