OPINION: Political Newcomers Sign up for 2024 Local Races

Posted on August 25, 2023 by EDITORIAL BOARD

Some newbies to the local political field have tossed their hats into the ring for the 2024 election cycle. We wish them luck. It’s always encouraging to see someone who wants to be a public servant. The Primary Election is scheduled for August 20, and the General Election will take place November 5, 2024.


According to Santa Rosa County Supervisor of Elections Tappie Villane’s website, as of August 25, there are currently 148,947 registered voters in Santa Rosa County:

  • 88,437 Republicans 
  • 36,381 Other
  • 24,129 Democrats

Obviously, Santa Rosa County is a staunch Republican stronghold; only 16% of voters are registered Democrats.


Incumbent school board members Elizabeth Hewey and Charles Elliott each face challengers for their seats, District 2 and District 4, respectively. All of the school board challengers have been vocal in their opposition to the district’s handling of pornographic content which was discovered within the school library system.

Although school board races are non-partisan, Hewey’s affiliation with the Democratic Party has made her a target of local Republicans who want her replaced with a Conservative. Jennifer Tapley and Oscar Locklin have pre-filed for Hewey’s District 2 race. Both are Republicans. 

Angie Straugh, also a Republican, has pre-filed for Elliott’s District 4 race.

Schools Superintendent Karen Barber is presently not challenged in her re-election bid, but in my opinion it would be exceptionally difficult to unseat her. Despite much public outcry over school library content, Barber has also been able to help move the district forward in a multitude of ways, including much-needed new school construction and openings at East Bay K-8 and Wallace Lake K-8.


Three seats are up for re-election next year: District 1 (Pace), District 3 (North County) and District 5 (Gulf Breeze).

District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker has not yet pre-filed for re-election. Newcomer Aaron Williams, a Republican, has prefiled for that race.

District 3 Commissioner James Calkins has also not yet pre-filed, but he is expected to do so. Jay teacher Rhett Rowell, a political newcomer, has entered that race along with Jerry Couey, who is no newcomer, having unsuccessfully run for local elected office at least five times. All three are currently registered Republicans, although Couey has previously run as a Democrat.

District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright, a Republican, has not yet pre-filed for re-election and so far faces no challengers if he does so.


All Santa Rosa County Constitutional officers, except retiring Clerk of Court and Comptroller Donny Spencer, have pre-filed for re-election next year: Santa Rosa Property Appraiser Gregory Brown II, Sheriff Bob Johnson, Supervisor of Elections Tappie Villane, Tax Collector Stan Colie Nichols. It’s my opinion that unless something significant happens, they will all be easily re-elected.

The only Constitutional officer facing a challenger so far is Villane, who enjoys incredible popularity. You would be hard pressed to find a more dedicated, responsive and likeable public servant. She’s being challenged by fellow Republican Cindy Hall.

As for Spencer, it’s sad to see him retire. He’s done a remarkable job with integrity. The silver lining is that he has endorsed his Deputy Clerk, Jason English, a former prosecutor who is honest, helpful and concerned – character traits we need to see more of in public servants.