South Florida Sun-Sentinel | By Scott Travis and Ben Crandell | July 11, 2022
Perhaps a sign of a new conservative influence in this year’s Palm Beach County School Board races, two campaigns made a stop this weekend at the West Palm Beach Gun and Knife Show.
One of those candidates also has a campaign flyer promoting a “Target Practice Defense Shooting Clinic” at a gun range in Okeechobee.
The moves come as a wave of conservative candidates in Florida and around the country, many angry with how school districts handled COVID-19 issues, are flooding School Board races in hopes of replacing incumbents.
A major test for their success could be the District 6 race in western Palm Beach County, where four challengers hope to unseat Marcia Andrews, a School Board member since 2010, during an Aug. 23 election.
The district includes the suburbs of Royal Palm Beach and Wellington, the rural Acreage area and the poor largely Black Glades area. It’s one of the most politically diverse districts in the county with 38% Democrats, 31% Republicans and 31% other or no party affiliation.
Two of the challengers in the race, Amanda Silvestri and Jen Showalter, are courting voters interested in gun rights, an issue that hasn’t traditionally been a focus of School Board races.
Showalter set up a table on Sunday covered in campaign literature against one wall inside the Expo Center at the South Florida Fairgrounds, where the gun show takes place each month.
Asked if conversations about the welfare of students seem out of place in a room filled with guns — a little more than six weeks after a mass shooting at a Texas elementary school claimed 21 lives — Showalter disagreed.
“What has happened in our schools has been very scary. It’s been very horrifying, but we also have to acknowledge, where are the issues with those school shootings? What have they done wrong?” she said.
Showalter said the solution might be found at places like the gun show, which attracts experts who could give interested teachers tactical training and certification that would dissuade potential shooters.
“Having a select group that have the capability, and the will, to go through specialized, hardcore tactical training, would be a deterrent,” she said. “Where do you see all of the issues that are going on? They’re soft targets.”
On Saturday, another District 6 candidate, Amanda Silvestri, of Wellington, took her campaign to the gun show with a table manned by her husband, Richard.
“As a first-time candidate, I try to meet as many people, where they are, as I possibly can,” Silvestri said in a phone interview.
Silvestri posted a photo Saturday on her campaign’s Facebook page, saying “Stop by the Fairgrounds and meet my husband and neighbor! Grab a yard sign! We hope to see you there!”
The photo included what looked like a replica of a semiautomatic rifle. However, Silvestri said the device belonged to a deputy with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office who was at an adjacent booth.
Still, Silvestri had second thoughts and removed the photo a few hours after posting it. (Silvestri said she herself wasn’t at the event.)
“I had heard from a few people that it would probably be wise to take it down,” she told the Sun Sentinel. “I don’t want to deter anyone from my message. If they are reading something they don’t agree with it, I don’t want them to forget what I stand for, which is protecting teachers and students and making sure schools are safe.”
Justin Katz, president of the Palm Beach Classroom Teachers Association, said he found it telling that Silvestri removed the post. He and his group support Andrews, the incumbent.
Silvestri “immediately realized the imagery and close association of rifles and schools was not wise,” Katz said. “But deleting a post doesn’t change a person’s views or positions. It just tries to hide it from others.”
Showalter appears to be standing firm in her pro-Second Amendment campaign. She kept up Facebook posts from the gun show. A flyer for a Showalter July 23 fundraiser says, “Target practice defense shooting clinic.”
“$150 minimum donation includes snacks, water, soda and range time with use of Karnivore firearms or your own,” the flyer said. “BYO ammo or preorder with your RSVP.”
Andrews said she was outraged by these campaign efforts.
“I’m just astounded by their bad judgment,” Andrews said. “I would never ever want to see someone on the School Board that advertised at such an event. They want to represent children in Palm Beach County? It’s just frightening.”
She said these campaigns are insensitive to victims in school shootings such as Parkland and Uvalde, Texas.
Two of those directly impacted by the Parkland shooting shared different views.
“I think it is very inappropriate, but it is also none of my concern where they campaign,” said Broward School Board member Debbi Hixon, who lost her husband, Chris, in the Parkland shooting. “I wouldn’t do it, but I guess that is where they have supporters.”