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Lennard throws his hat in the ring for Senate race

The former Hillsborough County schools superintendent wants Tom Lee's District 10 seat.

By LETITIA STEIN
Published September 14, 2005


RIVERVIEW - With two minutes left in his campaign kickoff, Earl Lennard shrugged out of suit jacket.

"I'm not a politician," Hillsborough's former schools superintendent told family and educators at the Riverview Sandwich Shop. "I don't know that much about politics. I really don't."

He's learning fast.

The 63-year-old retired educator formally announced his campaign for Republican Tom Lee's Senate seat at a family-run diner on U.S. 301.

Lennard needs little introduction to people in southeast Hillsborough, his lifelong home and the bulk of a district that edges into Pasco and Polk counties. Still, no one knows what to expect from a longtime Democrat, running his first race as a Republican.

He switched parties in July, about two weeks after retiring from nine years as chief of the nation's ninth-largest school district. Lennard said he waited to avoid politicizing his nonpartisan post.

He promised to issue detailed positions. For now, he glossed over his opposition to a constitutional amendment to reduce class sizes in Florida. He fears its expense will make funding public schools difficult. He supports competition, like charters schools and private-school vouchers, but really supports good public schools.

"Earl would be a moderate Republican," said Yvonne Lyons, executive director of Hillsborough's teachers union. "Given his background, I think he would work very, very hard to make sure education got its fair share."

Lennard acknowledged other issues also matter to voters: Growth management, transportation, affordable health care. But after four decades in educator, he unabashly championed education as the cornerstone of the state's future.

The pitch played well to a crowd that included former Florida Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, School Board Member Carol Kurdell, tire dealer Olin Mott and Tony Saladino, who hosts a famed annual tournament for local baseball players.

Consultant Jack Latvala is running Lennard's campaign.

Lennard faces primary competition from Republican Sandy Murman, a former state House representative. Others contenders are Republicans J. Steven Cleveland of Valrico and Ray Young of Plant City, and Democrat Stephen Gorham of Plant City.

Lennard is learning politics, but the community knows him.

"He's been out in the community for 42 years," said Jennifer Faliero, east Hillsborough's representative on the nonpartisan School Board. A Republican, she's not supporting a candidate in the state Senate primary.

"They know him as a person," she noted. "I think that's more important than having a D and R or an I or whatever behind the name."

[Last modified September 14, 2005, 19:46:02]


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