Hours before the polls opened on Election Day, a video was uploaded to social media of Linda Prescott, Vice Chair of the Hernando County School Board, removing signs critical of fellow school board member and candidate for re-election Susan Duval.
The video posted by Blaise Ingoglia, a State Representative who was recently elected to the State Senate, shows Brooksville resident Tommy Sciole confronting Prescott while she was carrying several yard signs at the Spring Hill Library early voting location. The signs show a photo of Duval with the words “Liberal Democrat Susan Duval Voted to MASK Your Child.”
Prescott admitted to removing the signs so she could take them to the Supervisor of Elections office due to the lack of a ‘paid for’ disclaimer, according to a comment she left on Ingoglia’s video. Prescott cited Chapter 106 of the Florida Statutes that govern political advertisements, which typically require a disclaimer indicating who paid for the advertisement.
However, both Ingoglia and Sciole allege that the sign in question is not applicable because it’s not a political advertisement by definition.
In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling with Buckley v. Valeo, which set concrete rules differentiating between the concepts of issue advocacy and express advocacy. To be considered a political advertisement, according to the ruling, it must expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate and contain “eight magic words” or a variation of those words.
According to the ruling, those words are “vote for, elect, support, cast your ballot for, Smith for Congress, vote against, defeat, and reject.” If the materials do not contain those words or variations, they’re considered issue advocacy and are not subject to campaign laws or disclaimer requirements.
In an interview with the Hernando Sun, Prescott denied stealing them because she allowed Sciole to take them back during the confrontation.
“I never refused to give him back the signs,” Prescott said. “I took all the signs to my car and began putting the Kay [Hatch] and Susan [Duval] signs in my car and put his signs off to the side to return to him.”
Sciole provided an invoice to the Hernando Sun from Tampa-based Good Guys Signs with his name as the payor. He believes he was within his right to display the signs around the county as a private citizen exercising his right to free speech.
“I was honestly shocked and in disbelief that a sitting school board member would try to silence my First Amendment right,” Sciole said. “They should be role models for our children to look up to. How can our children look up to a thief?”
When reached for comment, Duval responded that she had not seen the video and that she heard it was “heavily edited” by Ingoglia.
“I have nothing to say about that situation, only that it seems to be true in many elected races, it is perfectly acceptable to have personal attacks,” Duval said. “I find that to be disconcerting.”
Duval won her re-election to the school board last week with just over 52% of the vote, overcoming a challenge from political newcomer Monty Floyd.
Like other school board races across the Sunshine State, conservatives sought to make the non-partisan school board election political. Floyd used the slogan ‘Make Education Great Again’ while designing his campaign literature to resemble that of former president Donald J. Trump’s campaign branding.
Ingoglia was outspoken in his support of Floyd’s campaign, which also drew the ire of Prescott. Ingoglia serves as the Chairman of the Hernando County Republican Party.
“I have never in my life experienced an elected official and his supporters with so much hate towards the three educators on the Board because we have a ‘D’ after our names,” Prescott said. “It is a non-partisan position and politics never enters into any decision we make.”
Similarly, signs and banners critical of Floyd were displayed at early voting locations that did not have a ‘paid for’ disclaimer.
When asked if complaints were made to the State of Florida or the Supervisor of Elections regarding the signs, neither Prescott nor Duval responded.
In a statement to the Hernando Sun, Ingoglia demanded an apology from Prescott.
“What Linda Prescott did is not becoming of an elected official,” Ingoglia said. “Stealing is never okay and taking away someone’s constitutionally-protected First Amendment right is worse. She needs to publicly apologize to Mr. Sciole and all of Hernando at the next school board meeting.”