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Fighting Back

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Shortly after celebrating her 18th birthday, Cheryl Mullen went to the county courthouse primed to do her civic duty and register to vote.

But when the clerk asked the young woman her party affiliation, Mullen hesitated.

Democrat or Republican? She may as well have flipped a coin for all she knew about politics.

"What are most people around here?" she asked.

"Republicans."

"O.K.," Mullen replied, "make it Republican."

A decade later, Cheryl Mullen--wife, mother, and Democrat--is stumping the small towns and rural hamlets of Lake County as a school board candidate in one of the most hotly contested local elections in the nation.

Last May, a school board dominated by Christian conservatives ordered all 33 elementary and secondary schools in the district to begin teaching that U.S. culture is superior to all others. The board's action captured headlines from Boston to Las Vegas and from Caracas, Venezuela, to Tokyo.

But the cultural-superiority policy was neither the first--nor was it the last--action the Lake County school board took that compelled a growing number of parents to re-examine their roles in the public schools and to take action to reclaim them from the grip of people whom they view as extremists.

United in their purpose, the parents have taken different steps to insure that the balance of power shifts after this month's election. Some have tossed their hats into the political ring. Some have formed a political-action committee. Some have dug deep into their pockets to back their candidates. Some have traveled to Tallahassee seeking state intervention. Some have volunteered to sit on school committees. And some just make sure they attend and monitor school board meetings.

This is the story of the politicization of Cheryl Mullen and other parents whose lives have been transformed as swiftly as the community in which they live.

A Changing Landscape

"Come on, Johnny," Mullen coaxes her son as she zips around her in-laws' house in the Monday morning rush to get the kindergartner to school on time.

While she puts the two German shepherds outside, Johnny discovers he's left his book bag at his house rather than his grandparents' home, where the Mullens are spending a few days. But he'll have to do without today, Mullen tells her son, because time is running out.

Dressed in a conservative suit of jacket and shorts, Mullen hops in the front seat of her green Toyota and grabs a pile of papers from the passenger seat before heading out on the 10-mile drive.

Along the predominantly country roads, she passes small clusters of children waiting for the school bus.

She voices concern for one lone little boy. You never know what can happen anymore, even out here where orange groves covered much of the land until a killer freeze wiped them out in the mid-1980's.

Since then, residential and commercial developers have gobbled up much of this central Florida county of gently rolling hills just west and north of Disney World. They've turned large sections of the county into bedroom communities for Orlando, generating large increases in the number of school-age children.

District officials were expecting about 500 more students this year, but some 1,100 new students had enrolled by the beginning of the semester, raising the student population to 23,000. To keep up with the growth in the southern end of the county alone, district officials estimate they need to build eight elementary, four middle, and two high schools within 15 years, based solely on the developments already in the works or planned.

A third-generation central Floridian, Mullen had attended Lake County schools until her senior year. Her father, a carrot farmer, and her mother, a school district employee in the next county over, had transported her to the schools themselves. "That's how much they believed in the Lake County school system," says Mullen, who makes a quick stop to pick up a friend's youngster and then heads for Seminole Springs Elementary School, where a sign proclaims "At Our School Parents Are Important."

It was here that Mullen's political education began just two years ago. Like most parents, she had examined report cards and checked homework. She had also served as a volunteer in daughter Kristan's K-2 classroom. But Mullen didn't concern herself with what was going on elsewhere in the school system.

At Seminole Springs, she first heard about what many folks in Lake County refer to as "the majority"--shorthand for the three members of the school board who have been heralded nationwide by Pat Robertson, the founder of the conservative Christian Coalition.

She began to hear rumblings among the teachers and the staff: A school board member who was one of the Christian conservatives wanted to ban some Little Sunshine books--books that Kristan loved.

The board member, Pat Hart, had faulted When Itchy Witchy Sneezes because it had a witch as a character, say teachers at the school. Hart did not like Quack, Quack, Quack, because it showed disrespect for the father in the book, who makes duck noises and embarrasses his children. The board member found that Mrs. Grindy's Shoes ridiculed old people because the title character had misplaced her shoes.

Eventually, curiosity prompted Mullen to attend her first school board meeting.

As it happened, she chose the night early in 1993 that the school board fired the district's veteran lawyer and replaced him with Dick Langley, a state senator who had been ousted by the voters of Lake County the previous November. Langley had been targeted for defeat by the local teachers' union, which viewed him as an enemy of education. And now he was chosen to give counsel to the teachers' bosses.

Upset by the decision, Mullen arrived home to find her husband and several of his friends watching a sporting event on television.

"Every one of you stop and listen to me," demanded Mullen, who turned off the TV and exhorted the men to take an active part in the schools.

"There's nothing you can do about it, Cheryl," one of her husband's friends said. "It's politics."

"You're wrong," Mullen countered. "There's got to be something we can do."

Shared Concerns

Back then, Mullen did not know that school matters would soon consume her life. Nor did she know there were pockets of parents throughout Lake County who shared many of the same concerns.

Strangers or nodding acquaintances to begin with, they began to realize that their complaints about the school board were similar. A half-dozen or so began meeting during the summer of 1993 to figure out what action they could take to put a stop to the majority.

Gail Burry also noticed the growing frustration. The president of the Lake County Education Association, Burry invited a union associate from Tallahassee to come explain various ways the parents could proceed.

In September, a small group of parents founded People for Mainstream Values, a nonpartisan political-action committee dedicated to engendering widespread interest in the next school board election and supporting moderate candidates to challenge those backed by the Christian Coalition. It has grown to about 150 members. The pac endorsed candidates in the Republican and Democratic primaries and sent campaign literature to absentee voters in the county.

A core member of the committee, Dale LaRue recalls her growing political awareness.

Amid her tale, she occasionally glances out her living-room window where two of her sons and their friends play football on the lawn that slopes down to Lake Dora.

LaRue, her husband, and their four children moved to Mount Dora, a historic community in Lake County, six years ago from south Florida. She became active in her children's schools, the p.t.a., and the districtwide school-advisory council.

But she didn't bother attending school board meetings.

When Pat Hart was elected to the board in 1990, the member's provocative proposals didn't bother her. After all, LaRue recalls, most people just wrote off Hart because she was a minority of one and didn't seem to be much of a force.

But when Claudia Ramsay and Judith C. Pearson were elected in 1992, the religious conservatives forged a majority on the board, and LaRue and others started paying attention.

During the campaign, the women had tapped into two issues that struck a chord with Lake County voters, many of them senior citizens: They promised to cut property taxes and to "bring back the basics" to the schools. In campaign literature distributed in church parking lots after Sunday services, they portrayed their opponents as big spenders with questionable moral stances.

The pair defeated the incumbents, one of whom did little campaigning because he was in south Florida helping clean up after Hurricane Andrew.

After the school board fired its longtime lawyer, LaRue called a special meeting of the school-advisory council; 100 people showed up. The council authorized LaRue to send a letter to the board asking that it reconsider its decision. The board did not respond. "A broad-based group of people in the schools were making [their dissatisfaction] known, and they didn't care," a disgusted LaRue says.

She and other parents began looking into what the Christian Coalition stood for, and what they turned up worried them: Censorship, school prayer, and creationism were among the measures the coalition pushed.

LaRue also added her name to the lawsuit the teachers' union had filed against the board contesting the legality of the cultural-superiority policy.

Her challenges to the board led one man to chastise her at a community meeting one night. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," he told LaRue, a former school volunteer of the year.

"A lot of the things they want are a lot of the things that we want," LaRue says of the board majority. A Roman Catholic, she advocates strong families and values, pride in country, and a focus on children. "But it's the way they're going on about it. All they care about is their little agenda."

Controversial Decisions

Together or singly, the conservative Christian board members have proposed, or adopted, a number of controversial policies, in addition to the cultural-superiority mandate.

They've opposed the use of deep-breathing, meditation, or yoga exercises in class and the use of a self-esteem curriculum. They tried to force the district to jettison whole-language instruction in favor of phonics. They're working to outlaw references to homosexuality and contraceptives in family-life classes. Often, their desires seemed to contradict state law and regulations.

They have blocked the establishment of full-service schools and school-based health clinics, and they denied a Head Start program temporary space in a school.

They turned down a grant to fund an anti-smoking curriculum and related staff development and jeopardized a grant that would provide instruction in an alternative setting for suspended or expelled pupils.

Rare, in fact, is the subject that has not elicited controversy, be it as sensitive as sex education or as mundane as employee retirement benefits.

"I feel like Alice in Wonderland," says Burry, the union president. "It just gets curiouser and curiouser."

The board members, though, say they have been maligned by their political enemies and the local media. "They tried to portray us as a three-headed monster," Judith Pearson says.

A native Chicagoan, Pearson moved to Florida nine years ago. She ran for the school board in 1992 with four chief goals: Return to the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic, science, geography, and history; hold the line on spending and taxes; adopt appropriate and up-to-date sex-education materials; and enforce strong discipline.

"I like to think of myself as a patriotic Republican, flag-waving, mom-and-apple pie, God-and-country, and all that," says Pearson, whose three stepchildren attended Lake County public schools.

As far as she was concerned, the so-called America First policy was not designed to denigrate individuals but was meant as a patriotic paean to the American form of government and its democratic freedoms.

Some of her other positions have also been mischaracterized, she says. Take school-based health clinics. "At the outset, it looks like a good idea," she says, "but some of the ones that I have seen end up dispensing condoms."

No More Whining

As founding members of People for Mainstream Values, Julie and Bill Yandall are on the majority's likely list of enemies.

The Yandalls were not the political novices that some of the parents were when the group began. In 1990, Julie had run unsuccessfully for a school board seat against another moderate candidate.

Their experiences with school politics run particularly deep. They had fought their share of battles over the years to insure that their son, Chris, would get the education they believed he needed.

"If you have a special-education student, you have to be a fighter," says Julie, the treasurer of the pac.

"I think basically we just got tired of going to school board meetings and getting things crammed down our throat," says Julie from a table at the Perkins Restaurant across the street from the school board offices. "You can only sit around and whine so long."

Their opponents have accused them of being puppets of the National Education Association and that "leftist Hollywood organization" People for the American Way, the liberal constitutional-watchdog group founded by the television producer Norman Lear.

But the Yandalls say those accusations illustrate just how far out of touch their opposition is. The local teachers' union is an American Federation of Teachers affiliate. And as for People for the American Way, Julie says she has never returned any of the organization's calls. "I don't even know what their agenda is," she says.

Like many of the parents involved with the group, the Yandalls' initial interest in the schools was largely personal. Julie volunteered at Chris's school and daughter Caroline's before she graduated, but rarely attended a school board meeting.

For years, in fact, school board meetings were held in the board offices with many of the 60 or so seats going empty.

Since the conservative Christian members took office, the meetings have had to be shifted to the schools to accommodate the large audiences. So many people began turning out for meetings that the board began requiring people to register if they wanted to speak and limiting their time to three minutes each.

Last March, about 900 people turned out to challenge a board proposal to cut seven administrators from the staff. The meeting lasted from 9 A.M. to 7 P.M. In the end, Pearson switched her vote, and the positions were saved.

While the Yandalls were at that meeting, three boys came to their house. They gave Chris, who is learning impaired due to a seizure disorder, a condom and told him it was candy. The incident greatly disturbed the Yandalls, whose 17-year-old son has reached the age where he's starting to spend time on the phone with girls.

Although Chris had taken the district's regular sex-education course, the Yandalls, backed up by experts, believed the instruction and materials were too vague for special-education students.

Julie Yandall joined a committee of teachers and other parents to view and screen slides from sex-education courses designed for special-education students. They had weeded out the slides they deemed inappropriate for their children and community, but were still fashioning a curriculum when one of the majority board members announced at a board meeting that she was adding an emergency item to the agenda.

The room was cleared of children, the lights darkened, and a slide projector, which someone had thought to bring along, was clicked on to show the "pornography" the district was preparing for its students. The slides, including many the parents had discarded, were shown without any narrative. Consequently, a slide of a physician checking a patient for testicular cancer was erroneously labeled a homosexual act.

Julie Yandall could not watch any longer. She left the auditorium and went home and sobbed. "I felt like I let everyone down," she recalls.

The project was largely abandoned, the school board disbanded the citizen's human-growth-and-development advisory committee, and Chris had no sex education last year.

"I do not have any pornographic magazines in my home," says the Sunday school teacher who was selected as an elder this year by the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Leesburg.

"I don't even have any pictures of naked women I can show him," Julie says. She simply isn't equipped to teach her son at home.

A new committee on the topic was formed, composed of nine members appointed by the majority and six by the minority. It is charged with recommending a new abstinence-based curriculum. But so far apart are the members philosophically that after four months they were still fighting about a timetable, even though Pat Hart had ordered them to be ready by October.

What the majority of the committee did do was throw out the old materials.

Both sides appear to be biding their time in hopes that their candidates win the election.

As a committee member, Bill Yandall sees his job as obstructing the conservative forces by manipulating parliamentary procedure and questioning even the smallest matter that comes before the body. "My job is to be the chief asshole," the chairman of People for Mainstream Values acknowledges.

Growing Hostility

The conflict has been going on so long that there is little pretense at civility.

At a hearing to set the tax-millage rate and the budget for the district, Chairwoman Pat Hart pounds the gavel to drown out board member Sandra Green. Green and Phyllis Patten--the pair at the losing end of most board votes--talk out of turn because Hart refuses to recognize them.

Another member of the majority, Claudia Ramsey, and Patten squabble over s.a.t. scores. Green and Ramsey argue over grant money for technology and dwindling funds for professional development.

"There are times when we all disagree on things, which is pretty much most of the time anymore," Green notes at the session.

In Florida this year, most districts have taken advantage of the legislature's permission to increase the tax rate one-fourth of a mill. Not Lake County. Despite the protests of audience members and the administration, the board votes 3 to 2 to roll back the millage, thereby cutting $3 million from the $160 million operating and capital budget.

When it's her turn to speak, Julie Yandall uses nowhere near the three minutes allotted to address the board. "Your children are not affected one bit by the budget cuts," she jabs. Hart's and Ramsey's children attend private schools, and Pearson's children and stepchildren are adults.

The hostility also spills over into the board majority's relationship with the administration and the teachers.

"There is absolutely no trust," says Burry of the teachers' union. "One of the things that really hurts is their calling anybody related to education 'educrats.'"

At the budget meeting, one administrator barely masks his exasperation as he has to explain several times why categorical grant money cannot be shifted from one account to another.

Superintendent Thomas Sanders readily acknowledges his frustration.

The superintendent, who is elected, says the board majority constantly ties up him and his staff with endless demands for information and vacillating changes in policy.

At a recent workshop, for instance, the administration was told to draft a third early-retirement-incentive policy after Ramsey vehemently refused to support any plan that rewarded teachers with 30 or more years of service and all administrators for retiring early.

She would not budge from that position even after Sanders and others explained that the goal was to save the district money by sweetening the pot for the highest-paid employees to retire.

"If you want to punish administrators," Sanders told her, "you, at the same time, punish the school system."

"The school boards I worked with in the past seemed to have more knowledge and insight into the schools," sighs Sanders, who has been in education for 33 years. "It's just over and over and over trying to get them to understand."

Pearson denies the superintendent's charges, but acknowledges the antagonism between the board majority and the administration. "There is a lack of respect from them completely," she says.

The controversy over the board majority's actions has had at least one positive result, Sanders says: Many more parents, business people, and civic leaders are attending school board meetings and becoming interested in the schools.

Speaking Out

At the beginning of the fourth week of school, the temperature has climbed into the low 90's, and the air-conditioning has broken down for the umpteenth time at Eustis Middle School.

"Lately, things have become so political that if the administrators and teachers don't do something, we're just going to suffer," Principal Charles McDaniel says.

The school is a maze of classrooms and portables in which 700 students are shoehorned into too few classes; some teachers have as many as 38 students. Fifty new students were enrolled this year alone.

The roofs leak, termites are eating the gymnasium floor, and students eat lunch in 10-minute shifts because the cafeteria can't accommodate more than 150 at a time.

Consultants estimate it would cost $12 million to build a middle school elsewhere and transform the existing structure into a vocational-technical school for about 240 students, the latter type of facility sorely lacking in Lake County. Or it would cost about $8 million to renovate the current structure for middle school students. To do so, the school would have to be expanded into a 100-year flood plain flanked by wetlands. The school board voted for the $8 million renovation.

"Where are you going to put the kids while we're renovating the entire school?" McDaniel asks.

A little more than a mile away, Cheryl Mullen points out the 27-acre site where others wanted to build a new Eustis Middle School.

"They complain about our dropout rate," Mullen says of the school board majority. "If they gave them vo-tech opportunities, they could catch some of the students dropping out."

Ask her about the budget, construction, curriculum, or just about anything else that is school related, and it becomes apparent that Mullen has done her homework.

She doesn't support a school voucher system, but her reasons run deeper than the typical aversion to using taxpayers' money to support private and religious schools.

"If I choose to send my kids to a private school, more than likely it's because of our religious beliefs," she says. Under a voucher system, she says, the government would have more control over the schools. "I'm not sure these people realize this would happen."

She's staked out positions on other issues--whole language, for instance. She supports a literature-based approach to teaching reading but believes it must be combined with phonics. "I didn't think about these things before," Mullen says. "My brain is crammed," she laughs.

Most of the time, though, she finds little cause for laughter in this grueling and bitter campaign. It's no laughing matter, for instance, when a teacher tells her that one day she wrote the words "snake" and "witch" on the chalkboard, and then realized her job could be in jeopardy if a board member walked in.

Nor is it funny that Mullen has made enemies of people she has known for years.

A neighbor asked if she could speak to the Seminole Springs Elementary citizens-advisory group, which Mullen chaired at the time, about building a middle school next to the elementary school.

After conferring with Sanders, Mullen asked the superintendent to send a representative to the meeting to discuss possible disadvantages.

Livid, the neighbor accused her of being brainwashed by the administration, of denying neighborhood children the chance of getting a nearby school.

"Here I thought I was being very levelheaded and fair, and I got blasted for it," Mullen says. "That's part of your job, to listen to both sides and rule accordingly."

In fact, that's what initially irked her about the majority: They didn't listen.

A Compromise

In 1991, Florida passed its landmark Blueprint 2000 education-reform law. Among its provisions, the law requires each public school to form an advisory committee to write a school-improvement plan tailored to its individual needs.

The advisory committee at Seminole Springs Elementary in north-central Lake County wanted to set up a pre-kindergarten program and eliminate standardized testing for 1st and 2nd graders. In 1993, the school board rejected the plan, and the advisory committee sued the board.

Hart said young children belong at home with their mothers; Pearson did not want to give up control of part of the campus to a federally funded program. In the end, a settlement was reached when the board agreed to allow 1st graders to forgo testing.

Mullen believed it wasn't much of a compromise, but went along with the other parents and teachers to avoid losing state lottery money earmarked for schools.

But she was riled. She was divorced when she married John Mullen, and she knew what it was like trying to raise a child on her own. She would have loved staying at home with Kristan all the time, but back then she had to work to make ends meet. And she knew there were plenty of other single mothers in her neck of Lake County who had no choice but to work and had few suitable day-care alternatives.

"They hurt the children at Seminole Springs," Mullen says of the board majority. "We needed someone who truly cared about the best interest of the children."

Pearson largely blames the dispute on the unwillingness of school administrators and teachers to compromise. She also says the final decision rightly rested with the board--a claim that has never been substantiated because the suit was dropped.

Personal Sacrifices

Since her initial foray into school politics, Mullen attends every board meeting, every board workshop, every meeting of the growth-and-development committee. Her concern and commitment led people throughout the county to urge her to run for office.

Finally, perhaps inevitably, she agreed. She filed in February, long before the June deadline, to get her name in the limelight and attract supporters.

"It was a scary step for me," she acknowledges. "I've never been in politics. I didn't know what to expect. I knew it would take a lot of time away from my family and my business." Mullen owns a plant nursery.

Since then, if she isn't at a school board meeting, she's attending a political function. In August, she participated in candidate forums two nights a week, every week.

There have been sacrifices. With her frequent absences, production has fallen off at her two-person business. At home, her husband and in-laws have picked up the slack. But there are some things they cannot replace.

One night she was dressing to go out, and Johnny asked her if she was going to another school board meeting. He begged her not to go. "I just really miss you, Mommy," he cried.

She stayed home. "He needed to know he came before my meetings."

Fourth-grader Kristan, on the other hand, has helped her mother campaign, handing out literature and asking people to "vote for my mom."

A Real Opportunity

The parents sensed a real opportunity in the November school board election. Terms are expiring for three of the five board members--the two moderates, Sandra Green and Phyllis Patten, and Pat Hart. To gain control of the board, the moderates must sweep the election. The conservatives need only one seat to retain control.

School board members in Lake County represent individual election districts but are elected at large.

At the last minute, Hart announced she would not seek re-election, and Patten decided she, too, would bow out. That left 16 candidates in the Sept. 8 primary.

Eleven Republicans vied for the three seats. With no clear winners, the top two vote-getters in each of the three districts--a moderate and a member of the conservative Christian Coalition in each--were slated for a run-off.

The controversy also revitalized a moribund Democratic Party, which fielded no candidates in the 1992 school board election.

Democrats challenged each other in two of the election districts. Green, who had originally won her seat as a Republican, switched to the Democratic ticket and ran unopposed.

Turnout for the primary, 39.5 percent, was the largest in Lake County in nearly 30 years. Election officials said that only a raging thunderstorm throughout most of the afternoon kept the turnout from being even higher.

Rundown and sick, Mullen stayed home most of the day. But she and her husband and some friends, who had brought her flowers and champagne, drove to the courthouse for the results after the polls closed. Only then did she wonder what she would do if she lost.

A self-described moderate to conservative Democrat, Mullen had plastered the landscape with campaign posters, shaken hundreds of hands, and mailed thousands of pieces of campaign literature.

Though running as a Democrat, she had drawn support from g.o.p. quarters. Her in-laws switched party affiliations for the primary, as did friends. "Two of my friends were so afraid they were going to die a Democrat, they were going back the next day and change back," she laughs.

Mullen survived the primary, garnering the largest percentage of votes of any candidate--69 percent.

But this is Republican country where Rush Limbaugh bumper stickers are as abundant as orange trees once were, and she knows her work is cut out for her to win the general election on Nov. 8.

One Sunday morning at the Perkins Restaurant, a favorite haunt, she's wearing a teal T-shirt that simply says: Cheryl Mullen School Board. A woman walks up to her booth and tells her, "We're backing you up all the way."

But as the supporter exits, the waitress approaches and asks Mullen if she is running for school board.

When Mullen says she is, the waitress says she pays scant attention to the schools because she has no children in them.

"But your tax dollars pay for them," Mullen says.

The waitress shrugs. "I don't know any names but Pat Hart."

Political Sophistication

Mullen, Yandall, and the others have learned a lot about working the political arena since they entered the fray.

Between a school board workshop and a fund-raiser for the Lawton Chiles-Buddy McKay gubernatorial ticket, Mullen rushes to the courthouse to pick up a computer breakdown of the voting patterns so she knows where to concentrate her campaign efforts.

She also recently decided to crop her blonde hair, hoping she'll look a little more mature to voters who think that, at 28, she might be a little too young for the job.

After the school board adjourns one night, several members of People for Mainstream Values adjourn to a restaurant in Tavares for an impromptu strategy session.

What, if anything, should the pac do about the Republican run-off election?

After some debate, they decide to ask the steering committee to write a letter to local newspaper editors asking them to use the term "radical religious right" instead of "conservative Christians."

Here in the Bible Belt, after all, the term conservative Christian is a badge of honor--one that many of these parents would gladly wear themselves.

To hear the opposition tell it, though, Christianity may be beyond the reach of Democrats. At least that's what one leader of the Lake County Christian Coalition told a local reporter after the primary. Judson Cauthen said he doubted that a person could be both a Democrat and a Christian.

The parents have learned that politics can have an unsettling effect on people, and rub already raw nerves.

Julie Yandall got in hot water with local Democrats when she threatened to withhold support for Chiles because the Governor ignored a request by People for Mainstream Values to remove the three board members for malfeasance.

The state's response to the whole situation has been pretty much hands off. The issue has idled before the accountability commission, the group responsible for insuring implementation of Blueprint 2000, and the state school boards' association said it was an internal matter.

Only Commissioner of Education Douglas Jamerson wrote the board, asking it to reconsider the cultural-superiority policy because it conflicted with a state law mandating that multicultural education be taught.

Mullen was perturbed when she saw one of her posters had been not only knocked down but destroyed, while all the others around it were untouched.

In part, the anxiety stems from the somewhat different outcomes the parents are seeking. Some will be satisfied if the moderate Republicans win. Others, including Mullen, of course, want the Democrats to be victorious.

On Oct. 4, all three of the Christian Coalition candidates were trounced by their more moderate challengers in the g.o.p. run-off. Pat Hart says she was not surprised given the resources of the opposition--the teachers' union, administrators, and a biased media--and their Christian-bashing tactics. "Those were odds that were too great," says Hart, who declines to discuss the role the parents played in the primary or, for that matter, anything else about the tumultuous years she spent on the school board.

Regardless of how the general election turns out, she pledges that the people of Lake County and the nation have not heard the last of the Christian Coalition. "The Christian Coalition will continue to let its presence be known."

The work of People for Mainstream Values is done. All of the candidates it endorsed made it to the general election. "We said from the beginning that if we got safely through the primaries, we would work as individuals for whatever candidates we wanted to," Julie Yandall says.

The work got tougher for Mullen, who faces Randy Wiseman in the general election. Although he was considered a moderate in the Republican primary, he called himself a conservative on a radio show after winning the nomination.

If Mullen wins, she'll get to work immediately. If she loses, first, she'll cry, then take a few weeks off to regroup.

Win or lose, though, the mother knows her effort has been worthwhile. "I know I have already made a difference."

Like many Democrats across the nation last week, Cheryl Mullen lost the race. It wasn't even close. She garnered only 42.6 percent of the vote.

Her two running mates also went down to defeat, although incumbent Sandra Green lost by a narrow margin.

While Democrat Lawton Chiles won his gubernatorial re-election bid, he failed to carry Lake County.

Mullen has no regrets, though. She's convinced she did all she could.

For now, she plans to spend more time with her family and at Seminole Springs Elementary.

The loss is too fresh for her to consider another bid for public office just now. But maybe someday.

Meanwhile, she says, "I'll probably be in the front row at the next school board meeting."

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