Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sprawling District Challenges Candidates Hart, Bean Courting Support in District 12

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sprawling District Challenges Candidates Hart, Bean Courting Support in District 12

Article excerpt

Aaron Bean lives in Fernandina Beach. Bobby Hart lives in the tiny Baker County community of Taylor.

Bean is a banker and a Republican. Hart is a teacher and a Democrat.

But despite their differences, the strategy is the same as Bean and Hart run this fall for the state House District 12 seat: try to connect with as many voters as possible in a sprawling, largely rural district that stretches from Nassau to Union County.

Hart, who romped over two other Democrats in the September primary, thinks his background gives him the edge. He served on the Baker County School Board for six years, and he has taught at schools in Nassau and Union counties.

"I'm in touch with the people of the district," said Hart, 46, a geometry and college-prep teacher at West Nassau High School. "I know a lot of people in all areas."

But Bean, who easily won a Republican primary, said the district's largely conservative voters share his views. As the former Fernandina Beach mayor, he is trying to build on his base of support on Amelia Island and win in a traditionally Democratic district.

"For the most part, the people of District 12 are very conservative, churchgoing Christian people that share the same values that I do," said Bean, 33, who works as Compass Bank's city president for Amelia Island and Nassau County.

Bean and Hart will battle Nov. 7 in a race to replace George Crady, a Yulee Democrat who will be forced out of office by term limits after 23 years. District 12 covers the northern part of Duval County and all of Nassau, Baker, Bradford and Union counties.

Though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a 2-to-1 margin, state GOP leaders have targeted the seat to try to win this year. While usually electing Democrats to local and legislative offices, voters in the district often have sided with Republicans in statewide and national campaigns.

The candidates say one of their biggest differences centers on Gov. Jeb Bush's school-reform efforts.

Bean supports Bush's "A-plus" reform plan, which uses student test scores to grade the performances of public schools. Students who attend chronically failing schools can receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools.

Bean said the plan holds schools accountable for poor performance and rewards schools that do well with cash bonuses. He said vouchers help ensure that all students can receive quality educations and ensure that no child "gets left behind."

But Hart opposes vouchers, at least in part, because District 12 does not have failing public schools or space in private schools. That could lead, he said, to tax dollars going to private schools in other parts of the state instead of going to public schools in the district.

Hart also said the school grading system forces teachers to spend too much time preparing students to take tests instead of boosting students' knowledge. …

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