It's the schools, stupid.
Seminole County is still a conservative suburban hamlet that decisively went for Mitt Romney and even favored the constitutional amendment to outlaw Obamacare, which Florida as a whole rejected.
But hold off on the tea party. And don't even think about trying to build a statue of anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist here.
Seminole voters overwhelmingly decided to tax themselves to shore up the public schools budget that a Republican-dominated Legislature and governor have slashed by more than $73 million during the last four years.
In case you weren't convinced about just how serious Seminole County is about its schools, voters approved the 1 mil property tax increase by a 12-point margin.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Schools are to Seminole what Park Avenue is to Winter Park or the beach is to Coral Gables. The A-rated schools are the reason people choose to live here.
On Tuesday night a screen shot of the early returns showing the tax with a large lead circulated on Facebook.
"More concerned about this than the actual presidential vote," wrote Lisa Gelinas in the comment thread.
"Whether the tax passed or not was going to have a greater impact on me much sooner than what presidential candidate was elected," Gelinas, who voted for Obama, told me Wednesday. She lives in the Wekiva subdivision and has three children in the school system.
She wasn't alone. There was wide support for the tax, but it was far from a sure thing.
Voters turned down the School Board's request for a half-penny sales tax increase in 2010. And a group of vocal opponents put on debates and dropped cash on mailers to defeat the property tax too.
Add to that a Republican voter-registration lead over Democrats of more than 16,000 in Seminole and you had decent odds for a defeat.
But the tax's success showed that voters were more than willing to buck the stereotypical GOP anti-tax mantra.
For many voters the wake-up call came earlier this year when then-Superintendent Bill Vogel put eight elementary schools on the chopping block.
The district closed Longwood Elementary last year. And the Hopper Center for children with special needs closed this year.
There were frenzied meetings. Parents started grass roots groups to strategize ways to try to keep their school open. The tension turned people who had never advocated for anything political into pro-tax activists.
"This last year was really scary for us," said Melanie Confusione, who voted for Romney and has a son at Rock Lake Middle and a daughter at Wekiva Elementary.
That kind of gut-check, combined with former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy's vocal support pushed the tax beyond a marginal win to an overwhelming victory.
Van Gundy, who lives in Lake Mary and has children in the school system, became a rare professional sports personality who actually stood up for something that matters. And it wasn't glamorous.
Van Gundy sat through interminable city commission meetings and attended Rotary breakfasts to pitch the tax's merits.
Superintendent Walt Griffin said Van Gundy's persistence helped persuade a wider group of conservative, business-minded voters.
"One thing he really did — he showed how a lot of businesses supported our schools," Griffin said. "Businesses value our quality schools."
Quality of life trumped the no-tax mind-set.
As a result, the school tax (107,097) received nearly as many votes as Romney (109,456) in Seminole County.
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