In Santa Rosa, the August 26 Republican Primary features two races for county commissioner. Due to redistricting, the District 4 race is wide open, with six political newcomers seeking the seat and the current office-holder running in District 2.
That means the District 2 race has been left with the unusual circumstance of having two sitting commissioners running against each other.
Bob Cole is the District 2 incumbent. The owner of an auto repair shop for nearly three decades, Cole has held the office for 12 years and is seeking his 4th term.
Challenging Cole is current District 4 incumbent Jim Melvin. Melvin is a native of Milton, retired Air Force pilot and certified public accountant, who is finishing his first term on the board. He’s running against Cole because of redistricting.
In his campaign advertisement, Cole starts with a visit to Avalon Boulevard, which remains under construction. “Avalon is near completion. We must continue and improve more corridors to improve the quality and safety of our transportation.” He called on continued growth and building and building jobs to Santa Rosa County. And, he touts the county’s new covered arena for farm shows, equestrian, and other events. And, he notes that he’s worked hard to accomplish those things without raising taxes.
Melvin takes a different approach with his campaign ad. Utilizing patriotic music as a backdrop, he promotes his conservative leadership for all citizens. “Jobs and economic development continue to be my highest priority as your commissioner,” says Melvin “but, I remain focused on keeping our government open, honest and affordable.”
Both candidates agree that one of the biggest issues currently facing Santa Rosa County is deciding where to build a new county courthouse.
Melvin supports the current downtown site or a site in East Milton being offered for donation by resident Cotton Byrom. However, Melvin says he’s against the proposed site on Highway 90 in the Pea Ridge area. “Not because of the geographic location of the land or the topography. It’s a good piece of land. It would serve us well. The deal is not a good deal at all,” says Melvin, noting that he can’t support paying nearly $64 thousand dollars per acre for the property.
On the other hand, Cole was part of a majority on the board that initially supported the Pea Ridge property, but is now declining to designate a preference, saying it’s important for residents to make the final decision. “My thoughts are that when you’re talking about a $30-50 million project that affects the county for the next 50 to 80 years, that all citizens should have a vote on where that should be,” Cole says.
With the recent devastating flood affecting the south end of Santa Rosa County, both candidates place infrastructure and flood control high on their list of priorities…with each supporting immediate short-term mitigation and development of a county-wide storm-water master plan over the long haul.
To shoulder the cost, Bob Cole suggests a strategy that would set-aside a portion of increased taxes collected when vacant property is developed in order to have a local pot of matching dollars when state and federal grants become available.
Meantime, both candidates support an economic development strategy that will bring more jobs to the county. Melvin says he was proud to part of the effort that to get rid of the old TEAM Santa Rosa organization in favor of a full-time economic developer who’s been on the job about two years. In that time, he says the county has added over 900 jobs, that pay median income or higher for Santa Rosa, and brought with them $158 million in capital investments.
When it comes to BP/RESTORE Act money, Melvin and Cole say those dollars should be spent on long-lasting projects, such as beach re-nourishment, infrastructure, and transportation.
In the foreseeable future, though, only one of them will have a role in developing those projects as a sitting member of the Santa Rosa County Board of Commissioners.
Early voting continues until Saturday, August 23, with Election Day on Tuesday, August 26. On election day, the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The winner of the District 2 Republican primary will face NPA (No Party Affiliation) candidate Wallis Mahute in the November General Election.