Election season officially kicks off in Pasco County with the primary election on Tuesday, August 18, with a few key races, including the one involving Pasco County Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning and a replacement for District 4 County Commissioner Mike Wells, Jr.
Also on the ballot but running unopposed in the primary election are Republicans Mike Fasano (Tax Collector), Brian Corley (Supervisor of Elections), Chris Nocco (Sheriff), Ron Oakley (District 1 County Commissioner), Kathryn Starkey (District 3 County Commissioner) and Jack Mariano (District 5 County Commissioner).
The most interesting race may be between Browning and challenger Dr. Dave LaRoche, a race that became personal in June when Browning demoted and transferred his opponent.
Browning told the Tampa Bay Times that he replaced Dr. LaRoche, who has been the principal at Hudson High for 12 years, because he wanted someone in that position who shared his long-range plans for the county.
The School Board backed Browning’s decision to send Dr. LaRoche to an assistant principal position at Mitchell High in New Port Richey.
Dr. LaRoche, who graduated from Hudson High, as did his three younger brothers, wrote on his website that Browning’s decision was “suspect” and that, “I am concerned that the school that I have spent the last 16 years as an administrator (in Pasco schools) building, cultivating, and leading is being ripped apart for political aspirations.”
Dr. LaRoche has been involved in public education for more than 30 years.
Browning is a former Supervisor of Elections for Pasco County, as well as the former Florida Secretary of State under then-Governor Charlie Crist.
Browning is running for his third term as Superintendent of Schools. He filed to run again in December of 2019.
He oversaw a series of contentious re-drawing of school districts over the past few years, including one in the Wesley Chapel area, but has generally received favorable marks. The District’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been largely applauded.
How the district handles the upcoming school reopening could play a significant role in the election.
The winner in the primary will face Bayonet Point middle school teacher and Land O’Lakes High graduate Cynthia Thompson in the general election on Nov. 3. Pasco County is the largest of the state’s 41 districts that elect their superintendents of schools.
In the race to replace Wells, who is running unopposed for the property appraiser position his father Mike Sr. once held for 20 years, candidate Gary Bradford has garnered much of the support of the county’s Republican leadership.
He has received endorsements from District 2 Commissioner Mike Moore and Sheriff Nocco, among others.
A retired law enforcement officer and current Tallahassee lobbyist for the Florida Police Benevolent Association, Bradford has raised $104,873, which is roughly $70,000 more than the other three Republicans running against him .— Christina Fitzpatrick, Russell “Jeff” Miller and Gabe Papadopoulos — have raised combined.
In School Board races, District 4 incumbent Alison Crumbley faces off against Joshua Stringfellow, who has 10 years of professional experience in finance and accounting, including with Pasco County Schools from 2014-19.
Crumbley is seeking her third term, after winning her seat unopposed her past two races.