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Ex-superintendent joins race

Earl Lennard, retired chief of Hillsborough schools, aims to succeed Sen. Tom Lee.

Published September 15, 2005

RIVERVIEW - With two minutes left in his campaign kickoff, Earl Lennard shrugged out of his 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 state 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 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 education, 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 deale r Olin Mott and Tony Saladino, who hosts a famed annual tournament for local baseball players.

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.

[Last modified September 15, 2005, 01:04:09]

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