Ladra’s Miami-Dade School Board picks

Two, maybe three Miami-Dade School Board races this year have been seized by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez as part of a statewide effort to unseat more than two dozen local school board members who didn’t back the guv’s hardline stance against masks mandates in schools.

Perla Tabares Hantman, Marta Perez and Mari Tere Rojas are just not Republican enough, it seems.

The GOP already scored a small victory: Tabares Hantman, who is serving as chairwoman for the 14th time, withdrew from the race and decided to retire rather than face what everyone knew would be an ugly campaign.

Hopefully that sweet victory will turn sour when Maribel Balbin wins instead of the GOP’s handpicked candidate, Roberto Alonso, who DeSantis appointed to the Miami Dade College Board of Trustees in 2020.

Read related: Retiring Miami-Dade School Board chair sends governor a parting gift: ‘Pfft’

Alonso was pushing the DeSantis angle hard earlier. His video ad features the guv’s endorsement and Ron and his petty agenda are pretty prominent on his website too. Signs in the early voting process, however, changed from “DeSantis approved” to “support the police.”

Wonder if the guv thing gave Alonso any blowback.

Oh, and Alonso also has the endorsement of the Christian Family Coalition, a hate group that is anti Women’s rights, anti LGBTQ, anti-science, anti-education and pro conversion therapy pro creationism in public schools.

Alonso’s political action committee, Better Values in Education — note the word “values” — has gotten $50,000 from Jobs and Prosperity for Florida, Jeanette’s PAC. Another $3,000 came from A Better Hialeah, which is Hialeah Mayor Esteban Bovo‘s PAC, and another $10K from Celebrate Achievement, a PAC formed in July which has also spent just over $134,000 in advertising.

Better Values also also got $10K from developer Maurice Cayon, $5,000 from charter school developer Fernando Zulueta and $1,000 from Arnie Alonso, the former lackey to former Hialeah Mayor and chief hoodlum Carlos Hernandez.

Alonso, 43, has raised a little more than $117,000 for his campaign account and spent almost $97K of it. That includes $38,191 he raked in just from July 30 to Aug. 5. That’s more than Balbin, 58, has collected in total, as of the last campaign finance reports. But she has only spent $4,000 of her $37,000 bankroll, leaving her with more cash on hand than him for the final stretch (though not much).

Read related: Perla Tabares Hantman bows out and Miami-Dade School Board race ignites

Balbin, who is endorsed by the United Teachers of Dade — that means the teachers and staff in the district — has already been a public servant all her life, as a government employee and also civically in a number of posts, including as former president of the Miami-Dade League of Women Voters. She also served on the Miami Lakes Municipal Advisory Committee that eventually got the town incorporated.

She knows everybody. And everybody knows her.

With a daughter who teaches and grandchildren who attend public school in the district, Balbin has a very good grasp of the specific post pandemic issues that our school system is really facing right now.

Meanwhile, Alonso — whose kids go to private school — rails against indoctrination, critical race theory, which isn’t taught in our public schools, and transgenders competing in girls’ sports, which they don’t here, but it’s a DeSantis hot button issue.

There’s a third candidate, Kevin Menendez Macki, 41, but it looks like all he might do is force a runoff. This even though he has the full support of Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid. Some people have wondered why the CFC wouldn’t endorse Menendez Macki, who is principal of Hialeah’s largest Christian school. But the answer is simple: The group is an arm of the GOP.

Read related: Outsiders and GOP influence (fund) Miami-Dade School Board races

All three candidates are residents of Miami Lakes and all answered an extensive Q&A for The Miami Laker. In it, Alonso says he is endorsed by DeSantis. He also says he is pro school choice (read: charter schools). Today he works in real estate, but he once developed software for use by charter schools and schools of choice.

In the School Board District 4 race, please vote for Maribel Balbin.

Unlike Tabares Hantman, Marta Perez did not cut and run. So she has been hit with a negative campaign by the GOP, who have recruited 26-year teacher Monica Colucci — who was also Special Assistant to the Lieutenant Governor, South Florida Regional Representative, from February of 2019 to August of 2020 — for the race.

Several mail pieces have gone out attacking Perez paid for by Jobs and Prosperity PAC that say “It is time for new leadership in our schools,” because Perez “opposes our community’s values.”

There’s that word again.

There are also video ads that say she supported “the radical policies of the Biden administration.” As if.

Perez is a conservative Republican who would likely enjoy the CFC’s support any other year. She supports the same ass backwards policies as the DeSantis agenda: She opposes mandating LGBTQ history month, supports prohibiting any discussion of sexual preference or gender identity in K-2 and would ban students who were born male from using a female bathroom if they identify as female.

Why is there never any outrage about born girls using boys’ bathrooms? Those are disgusting! Everyone would rather use the girls’ bathrooms.

Read related: LG Jeanette Nuñez flexes, intimidates in Miami-Dade School Board race

Perez, who also got at least $4,000 from Zulueta, has said that longtime supporters have been scared away and even her campaign treasurer was forced to drop her as a client. “The intimidation is at every level,” she said.

Nuñez has also taken Colucci pretty much by the hand to interviews and, in some cases, spoken for her. Electing Colucci would mean electing Nu˜nez to the position.

Rejecting her and electing Perez would send a clear message to keep partisan politics out of our local educational decisions.

For School Board District 8, please vote for Marta Perez.

My third recommendation is going to come as a surprise because it is for the incumbent, Maria Teresa “Mari Tere” Rojas, who happens to be the sister-in-law of Congressman Carlos Gimenez, who Ladra believes is the most corrupt mayor this county has ever had. But let’s not hold that against Rojas. She ain’t her sister’s husband’s keeper.

Ladra is recommending Rojas because of the GOP interference in this year’s race. We know she was one of the three originally targeted. Teacher Sandra Manzieri, 56, and her supporters have told me that she hasn’t been put in the race by anyone else and that she just decided to run because Rojas is unpopular with the parents of students at her school, the Key Biscayne K-8 Center. Others have said she is just one pissed off teacher.

And she doesn’t have the same financing as the other two challengers, who are definitely GOP recruits. Manzieri has raised $28,287 to get her message across against $218,839 raised by Rojas, who also has a PAC — and $10,000 from Zulueta’s charter school firm.

Read related: Local transit workers union endorses candidates in local, state, federal races

And while neither woman was endorsed as highly qualified by the CFC neither was Rojas, both have very similar backwards views.

But if Manzieri is not part of the GOP hatchet job, then her timing sucks. And her website speaks DeSantis, with a focus on “parental rights” and a promise to “demand schools teach children how to learn, not what to think — there should be no promotion of extreme ideologies.”

If Manzieri is not in cahoots with the DeSantis Nuñez school board takeover plan, she’s playing along with it, feeding voters the same red meat that Alonso has on his website. Let’s play it safe and/or send a message to Tallahassee.

For Miami-Dade School Board District 6, please vote for Mari Tere Rojas.

In District 2, there are no GOP recruits running against 12-year School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, a former state rep, teacher and school principal who has been good for the district. But she does have a challenger: Teacher La-Shanda West.

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The incumbent is almost completely inaccessible, probably because she feels untouchable. And her ivory tower point of view is unmatched by the boots on the ground experience that West brings to the conversation. But she has only raised a little more than $2,000 to the incumbent’s $100K, which means she isn’t too serious.

Also Bendross-Mindingall’s experience and ability to navigate the politics of the school board may come in handy if one of the GOP recruits in the other districts does win. So, she gets the nod even if only for the purpose of keeping the right wing agenda at bay.

In School Board District 2, please vote for Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall.

Feel free to disagree with any of these recommendations. That is what democracy is all about. Just vote. We all win when more of us participate.

But remember that we could lose some local control of the school board to the governor and his political aspirations with their recruits. More books will be banned. Transgender kids will not be safe. Creationism will be taught as a possible alternative to evolution.