Five candidates for office in the 2018 elections spoke to members and guests of the Democratic Women’s Club of Indian River County at their recent meeting.
U.S. House candidate Sanjay Patel; Nicole Haagenson, running for the State House; and Merchon Green, Stacey Klim and Mara Schiff, all seeking seats on the Indian River School Board, also took questions from the gathering.
Patel, running against Republican Rep. Bill Posey, listed four top issues for the district, which includes all of Indian River and Brevard counties and a portion of Orange County. Those issues are money for public education, Medicare for all, expansion of the minimum wage, and the environment.
Noting the history of the district, “If we can send folks up to other planets,” Patel said, then we can “take care of the planet that we call home.”
As the son of immigrants, Patel said he is the epitome of the American Dream, but that dream is becoming more difficult. “The people in power are not representing us,” he said.
Haagenson is a candidate for the Florida House District 54 seat, currently held by Erin Grall. An Air Force veteran, she is an IT director for a Vero Beach company.
Two years ago Haagenson had never considered running for political office, she said. But with the 2016 elections, incidents began happening that shouldn’t have. She gave an example of a fellow veteran who is Hispanic being told, “Go back home.”
She listed her top priorities as public education and higher teacher pay, expanding Medicaid and healthcare, and the environment.
Asked about recent news reports of potential pollution in Blue Cypress Lake, Haagenson warned of having a knee-jerk reaction. She suggested establishing a committee of experts to investigate and propose needed environmental changes.
All three School Board candidates emphasized the need to improve teacher and support staff morale. Mara Schiff, running in District 1, said Indian River County must attract teachers with better pay and benefits. The state is systematically taking authority from local education, she added.
The candidates agreed that the current School Board ignores public concerns and suggestions. “Our School Board members don’t want to hear from us,” District 4 candidate Stacey Klim said.
An increase in quality education in the county was also emphasized. Merchon Green, the District 2 candidate, said the keys to that were accountability, transparency, community, and fiscal responsibility.
In answer to a question regarding improving behavioral problems, the three had the same response: Talk to the kids.
The next luncheon meeting of the Democratic Women’s Club will be in September.