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Cox and Stemle are making their final pitch to voters in a closely watched Leon school board race

A woman in a red sweater and a man in blue talk to each other while seated at a table
Lydell Rawls
WFSU Public Media
Laurie Cox (left) and Alex Stemle (right) talk education, politics, and policy during a voter forum at WFSU

Godby Assistant Principal Alex Stemle and retired teacher Laurie Cox are delivering their final pitches to voters. The two are running for a Leon County School Board seat. It’s among the most-watched races, locally.

Stemle has the support of at least two local unions—the teachers and firefighters-- while Cox has the support of local Republicans and conservatives. She’s the preferred candidate of the local Moms for Liberty chapter. During a recent forum at WFSU, Cox and Stemle noted the moment they decided to run for the seat, which came open when former school board member DeeDee Rasmussen resigned.

“My phone wouldn’t stop ringing and so I felt voters were looking for something else,” said Stemle. “You know, Laurie’s campaign had launched [and] I don’t think it was something everyone could support. And so, people were getting behind my campaign. And I felt that it was about my kids and your kids and your grandkids. This is something that’s bigger than just me.

Stemle has previously run for a school board seat but lost.

Cox had already been planning to run—but the moment came earlier than she expected, after Rasmussen’s resignation. For Cox, the uproar over classroom discussions of LGBTQ issues, race and culture, became a sticking point.

“Our classrooms cannot be billboards for political and social activism. It really resonated with me. We need to protect the integrity of our classrooms, and that really spurred me on,” she said.

Republicans have made local school board races a priority this election cycle following heated battles over how race, culture, history and gender and sexual identity are discussed in public schools, and even businesses. The state passed laws banning critical race theory—a concept that examines the impact of racism on public policy—and another that puts limits on employers who may want their employees to take diversity, equity and inclusion training.

For Stemle, Cox’s perceived alignment with Republicans on those issues is a step too far:

“There’s a big machine running behind her, and I think the Republican party and those that are far-right are trying to flip our school boards,” he said.

Cox did acknowledge she’s got that support but notes not all of her backers are those who align with her views.

“Growing up in this community I have friends all over this community and the level of support that’s come up has blown me away. A year ago, I never dreamed I’d be running for school board and to me, it’s not about the money. It’s about relationships,” she said.

This school board race holds promise for local Republicans who view it as a potential win after being largely shut out of local government during the past few years.

The two recently participated in a forum hosted by the Tallahassee Democrat, the League of Women Voters of Tallahassee and WFSU Public Media.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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