POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A school board member in Polk County lost narrowly to a first-time candidate with the backing of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
It happened all over the state after a rare move by the governor to get involved in non-partisan school board races.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., endorsed 30 school board candidates. At least 20 of them won and a handful are heading into a runoff race.
“We got involved to help candidates who were fighting the machine, fighting the lockdowners, fighting the forced maskers, fighting the people that want to indoctrinate our kids instead of educate our kids,” Gov. DeSantis said Tuesday night. “I’m happy to report to you tonight that because of your energy and enthusiasm, we were able to win school board victories all across the state of Florida.”
Just one candidate in Polk County got the endorsement from the governor: Rick Nolte, who ousted school board member Sarah Fortney by a less than two-point margin.
“Honored to be endorsed by Ron DeSantis and the People’s Caucus that helped me over the finish line. They really did,” said Nolte. “They got in about two and a half, three weeks ago and just — tremendous, couldn’t have done it without them.”
Nolte said he also had the support of County Citizens Defending Freedom, a conservative group best known for challenging 16 books on Polk County school library shelves.
After a review by two committees, which included members of CCDF, the books were deemed appropriate at some grade levels. Parents can opt-out of allowing their children to check them out through an online system.
Nolte thinks the books should be removed.
“Our superintendent changed his mind with the help of four other school board members to make it opt-out rather than opt-in,” he said.
School board member Sarah Fortney told News Channel 8 she was heartbroken by the loss but plans to stay involved. She was one of several incumbents who lost to DeSantis-backed candidates.
While they celebrated, others say his decision to endorse politicized school boards.
“The challenge, of course, is that in races that have historically not been partisan, this injects partisanship into local decision-making,” said Dr. Joshua Scacco, associate professor of political communication at the University of South Florida.
DeSantis’ successful endorsements could help with his education agenda.
“The net effect of this is it aligns the governor’s policies and messaging at the state level to the local level,” said Dr. Scacco.