Qualifying for the August primary is June 8-14. Dentel is currently unopposed in the Democratic primary as is District 37 Rep. Scott Plakon in the Republican primary. Since redistricting put Plakon up for election against another incumbent, the Longwood resident decided to run instead for the new district, which houses all of Maitland. Identified as a father and small business owner, he says he hopes his track record over the last four years will put votes in his favor. “I’ve been representing part of Maitland for four years, and I hope to continue,” he said. For more information on his campaign, visit scottplakon.com
On a Friday afternoon, Karen Castor Dentel sits outside a Maitland Starbucks sipping her iced chai latte as her “campaign assistant” programs dates into her boss’ new smart phone.
“What time does that meeting start?” her assistant asks, her baby teeth sinking into bites of her bagel.
“Nine, and I’ll probably duck out early, so you can say it ends at 10,” Dentel replies.
“A.m. or p.m.?”
“A.m., I’m a full-time teacher and mother of two. When was the last time you’ve known me to go out somewhere after 9 p.m.?” Dentel answers with a laugh.
As the newest candidate for the seat of newly formed District 30 in the Florida House of Representatives, Dentel — a second- and third-grade teacher at Dommerich Elementary — has a lot of scheduling to do in the upcoming months. But Caroline Dentel, her 8-year-old daughter and self-proclaimed campaign assistant, is ready and willing to help out her mom in any way she can.
Caroline’s small, nimble fingers take a break from her Game Boy to work on programming in the next pressing item on Dentel’s agenda: the meeting of the Dommerich Elementary fifth-grade graduation decoration committee.
“This is pretty much my campaign committee,” Dentel said with a smile and a shrug. “You’re looking at it.”
Dentel, who announced her candidacy on April 16, said she is looking to transition from the classroom to a seat in the Florida Capitol after the election in November, not because she necessarily wants to, or because of her family of legacy, but because she feels she needs to.
“People have always asked me when I’m going to run, but I’ve always been the teacher,” she said. “I love to teach and I’ve always wanted to teach, and I still do. But it’s getting so hard to do my job and do it well, and it’s all to do from mandates coming down from Tallahassee…. I think maybe it’s time they need a teacher.”
Fitting in with the family
Dentel comes from a long family of what she calls public servants.
Her mother, Betty Castor, served in the Florida Senate when Dentel was a teenager and was president of the University of South Florida from 1994-1999. Her father, Don Castor, was a judge in Hillsborough County. Her sister Kathy has represented Florida’s Congressional District 11 since 2007, and her brother Frank is a judge in Palm Beach County.
Dentel has served the public in her own way, as an elementary school teacher in Central Florida for more than 10 years, but she says she’d never seriously considered following in her family’s political footsteps until the past year when she got frustrated enough with legislation that was passing in Tallahassee. Pushes toward privatizing schools and the “parent trigger” bill, along with increasing changes to FCAT standards, she said, were the last straw.
“When I would talk to my colleagues about what was happening in the Legislature, they would say they didn’t want to get political, so I realized no one else was going to step up and knew I had to,” she said. “They need a mom and a teacher on these committees to tell them to stop.”
Coupling with that frustration, Dentel said, was the lingering vision of the newly redistricted legislative map with the Dommerich community and Maitland at the heart of District 30.
“When I looked at that map and I was already angry, and then I thought, ‘That is my home, we need a voice,’” she said.
Her mother, Betty Castor, said she was surprised and delighted when Dentel told her she was going to run for office, and thinks Dentel has the education, experience and core relationship with her community to make her a qualified public official.
“She knows her district and she knows the community, she knows a lot of parents, and I think that’s what’s important for someone running for office — really knowing the community and knowing how to use the knowledge of the community to represent them well,” she said.
To learn more about Karen Castor Dentel and her campaign, visit her Facebook page at facebook.com/KarenDentelForStateRepresentativeDistrict30
For Dentel, she says, it all comes back to education.
“If one-third of our legislative budget is going to education, we need to pay attention,” she said.
“So does that mean if I paid $1 in taxes, $.0.33 would go to schools?” her daughter Caroline interrupts, glancing up from the game she plays on her mom’s phone.
“Yes,” Dentel answers, smirking before she continues, “And I see education as it’s related to the economy… If we have an educated workforce and great school system and university system, it will attract bigger companies and creates more jobs. I see it as an overarching theme of investing in our future.”