FORT WALTON BEACH — A handful of candidates running for local and state offices introduced themselves Thursday during a virtual “meet the candidate” discussion.
They were interviewed by Ted Corcoran, president/CEO of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, at the chamber office. The Q-and-A session was broadcast live on Crestview Community Television.
Corcoran first talked with Sandra Atkinson, one of a group of candidates vying for the District 4 State Representative seat to be decided in the Nov. 3 General Election.
That seat currently is held by Mel Ponder. Ponder is running for the Okaloosa County Commission District 5 seat now held by Kelly Windes, who plans to retire.
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Atkinson is a Fort Walton Beach business owner and has served for more than 11 years as the Republican State Committeewoman of Okaloosa County.
She said seeking the state rep seat is a great opportunity to make District 4 even better. “We have to think outside of the box to improve our roads, bridges and schools, without raising taxes,” Atkinson said.
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She said she has been doing a lot of in-depth study on legislation and various issues of District 4, and that she mostly looks forward to helping people should she be elected.
In response to a question from Corcoran, Atkinson said she thinks the County Commission was “heavy handed” early on during the COVID-19 pandemic by closing local beaches. She said commissioners should have listened more to people and respected their private property rights.
Corcoran also interviewed Jeff Hinkle, Patt Maney and Jonathan Tallman, each of whom is a Republican candidate seeking the state representative seat.
Candidate John Plante, who is a Democrat and a resident of Niceville, was unable to attend Thursday’s event.
Hinkle, a Destin resident and retired business executive, is the chairman of the Okaloosa County Republican Party.
He said he is 53, has a lot of experience in life and has “another 20 years” worth of energy to be an effective leader and give back to the community.
Ending the Mid-Bay Bridge toll collections is one of his top campaign issues. Hinkle said unfortunately, when politicians get a hold of tax money, they want to hold onto it forever. The tolls are an example of that and must be stopped, especially for the sake of low-income workers, Hinkle said.
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He also said he has a lot of budgeting experience to help manage the state’s spending plan, and looks forward to helping develop a technology industry to benefit the area instead of just relying on the military and tourism.
Maney, an Army veteran and Shalimar resident, served for more than 25 years as an Okaloosa County judge before retiring in 2018.
In 2010, he created a Veteran’s Court — the first in Florida — that has helped veterans dealing with issues related to their military service avoid getting caught up in the legal system.
“I’m a conservative, a veteran and an experienced leader,” Maney said. “I’ve always taken kind of a whole county view to solving problems.”
Maney said he is not ready to retire yet because he still has a passion for service and “can hit the ground running.”
Maney added that he is a combat-wounded veteran who knows the military issues and has worked in business and education and on a lot of the matters that go before the Legislature, such as declining state revenues.
Tallman, a Niceville businessman, ran against Ponder for the District 4 House seat in 2016 and finished second in the voting.
“I want to bring conservative values and principles to Tallahassee,” Tallman said.
He said he has always felt called to public service and that he wants to stand up for unborn children and the Second Amendment, fight illegal immigration and eliminate the Mid-Bay Bridge tolls.
Tallman also said he wants to protect businesses from what he says are various “frivolous” lawsuits that have sprung up during the coronavirus crisis.
In addition, he said he would bring a pro-business mindset to Tallahassee while being accessible to everyone and striving to make a “multi-generational” impact on Florida.
Corcoran on Thursday also interviewed Okaloosa County District 3 Commissioner Nathan Boyles, who is seeking his third four-year term on the commission. District 3 includes a part of Crestview.
Boyles, a Republican lawyer from Holt, will face his lone current challenger, Brad Roehrig, a Republican businessman from Fort Walton Beach, in the Aug. 18 primary election. Roehrig was unable to attend Thursday’s event.
Boyles said he enjoys working on “big picture” issues, such as transportation infrastructure projects and public beach access issues. He said he believes all Gulf-front beaches are public ones.
Boyles also said he is proud of the way the County Commission has implemented various protective measures during the COVID-19 pandemic and directed the use of revenue from the local option half-cent sales tax that a majority of voters approved in 2018.
He said when he first joined the commission eight years ago, he brought fresh energy to the board.
“Now, I can bring a steady-hand approach,” Boyles said.