Janet Cruz got into the race for Senate District 18 to make an issue out of gun violence, but she discovered quickly that voters in her Hillsborough County district were even more passionate about restoring public school funding.

That became Cruz’s battle cry throughout a tough, nasty campaign against incumbent Republican Dana Young. It proved to be the winning strategy in Cruz’s 411-vote victory out of more than 207,000 votes that were cast.

Cruz, who was forced to leave her Florida House seat because of term limits, had an awakening after a chance meeting with a voter at a South Tampa Home Depot. That woman told her she had gone to the store to purchase portable air conditioners for some classrooms at Roosevelt Elementary School in the Palma Ceia section of Tampa.

Families had pooled money together to buy the units after cooling units at the school crashed. It was a county-wide problem as dozens of schools were affected. Officials said state funding cutbacks left them without enough money to combat the problem.

“Roosevelt Elementary is in one of the wealthiest areas of Tampa, but they still had this problem. We had been hollering and

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