One of the most intriguing state house races in the Tampa Bay area is taking place this fall out on the north side of Pinellas County. HD 65 has traditionally been a graveyard for candidates with a "D" next to their name. But after two unsuccessful tries in 2008 and 2010, Democrat Carl Zimmermann finally knocked off incumbent Peter Nehr two years ago, 53-47 percent. It certainly didn't hurt that Nehr self-immolated during the campaign, made national headlines for sending shirtless selfies of himself that he said were simply a way to show friends the weight he lost during a struggle with diabetes. Perhaps, but the press had a field day with it, and helped push Zimmermann over the top.
Now the 65-year-old Zimmermann is facing off against 30-year-old Republican Chris Sprowls, a special prosecutor in the Pasco/Pinellas County's State Attorney's Office, and a man groomed by Republicans for leadership — even before he's been elected.
Like Ronald Reagan against Walter Mondale in 1984, Zimmermann is trying to use the age gap between the two to his advantage, talking up the wisdom of his years against the new GOP hot-shot.
And the longtime high-school journalism instructor is seizing on the public's weariness with standardized testing as a campaign talking point as well. In a press release issued on Monday, Zimmernann said, "Accountability goes hand-in-hand with being responsible. And to continue to support unvalidated, still-in-development, high stakes common-core-like tests in our public schools is completely irresponsible.”
Zimmermann has taught broadcast journalism at Countryside High in Clearwater for nearly three decades and certainly speaks for many in public education when he speaks about his disdain for high-stakes testing. According to his press release, there are only three weeks during the school year that don't involve pulling students out of classes to take a test.
“How much longer will Floridians put up with the deceit?” Zimmermann asks. “We evaluated teachers with students they didn’t teach; we had FCAT tests graded by custodians; calculators that were missing the number 6; calculators that malfunctioned at least 25% of the time; rulers missing the number 3; and now high stakes tests that are not only unvalidated, but will be used to make judgments about our children and their teachers. Delay the testing until we get it right.”
Like much of the Democratic Party establishment in Florida, Zimmermann is opposed to expanding school vouchers and charter schools, something that Sprowls supports. “It is time to stop the charade that the legislature wants accountability," the first-time legislator says. "They place ridiculous demands on public school students and educators, yet give a pass to those that use public money for private schools.”
As reported by St. Petersblog's Janelle Irwin earlier this month, Sprowls put it this way regarding school choice: "We go to the grocery store, we have 100 different kids of milk to choose from. We have 2 percent milk, regular milk, milk for people who don’t drink milk, strawberry milk — we should have options" regarding education opportunities.
Zimmermann's comments were echoed today by Charlie Crist, who told CL in an interview that "This teaching to the test stuff has become a profit center for testing companies. And our schools are not learning centers anymore. They’re testing centers. And it’s out of control, and they we need to address it, and address it quickly."