SANTA ROSA INSIDER…Who qualified and who chickened out of the 2024 Santa Rosa Political Forum

Posted on June 17, 2024 by EDITORIAL BOARD

A candidate who has tried unsuccessfully to run for office multiple times, including running as a Democrat in the 1990s, was called out by a fellow District 3 challenger after not showing up for Saturday’s 2024 Santa Rosa County Political Forum. But Jerry Couey wasn’t the only former long-time Democrat to chicken out…

A political forum took place on Saturday, June 15 in East Milton. All the A-listers showed up, but there were some no shows, including District 3 County Commission Candidate Jerry Couey, whose truck was spotted driving down the road near the event. Was Chicken Couey scared to show up and face Rhett Rowell and James Calkins? Rowell called him out for not participating, stating Couey was a no show but that he (Rowell) would show up for citizens if elected.

More than 8,000 people have watched the online video of the event:

I suspect the real reason some of the candidates were running scared from the forum is because after we made public records requests word got out that we would be asking candidates about their party affiliation history, and Couey, who has run for office about 5 or so times and never won, ran as a Democrat in the 1990s. His party affiliation record shows he was a Democrat for 15 years before switching to the Republican Party.

Bureaucrat Bobby Burkett, who oversaw code enforcement during his 25-year career working for Santa Rosa County, had an excused absence from the event due to a family member’s memorial service. But his party affiliation history shows he was a registered Democrat for 20 years.

Same with no-show Ginger Pace, who was a registered Democrat for nearly a decade. Facebook live showed she was watching the debate though. I’m told she was demoted during her employment at the Santa Rosa Clerk of Court, but now she wants the top job? Retiring Clerk Donny Spencer has endorsed Jason English for the job, and it’s obvious why. English masterfully answered questions at the forum. I hope Pace watched and learned from him.

In the school board races, longtime Democrat Elizabeth Hewey, current District 2 School Board Member, also chickened out of facing any challengers. Mariya Calkins showed up to face Hewey and Oscar Locklin, but Locklin backed out of coming after Calkins entered the race last week.

Newcomer Angie Straughn also chicked out, watching online but not facing incumbent Charles Elliott, who saw three brand-new schools built during his 4-year tenure in the School Board District 4 seat.

The real showdown of the forum was the kickoff debate between Dr. Karen Barber and David Godwin, president of the Santa Rosa Professional Educators’ teachers union. The third candidate in that race, Brenda Stephens, failed to show up. Her husband, Rick, told me she was a Democrat before he got her to switch to the GOP. 

Candidates without the knowledge and experience to debate more experienced candidates, or formerly/currently registered as Democrats, seemed scared to show up. That speaks volumes! 

However, District 1 County Commission write-in candidate Zachary Reinhart of Pace showed up. Keep your eye on this 20-something. If he keeps his positive attitude and effort, he’ll be a local leader one day. Current Zoning Board Member Aaron Williams also inspired others with his frank, candid remarks. He’s another good one to watch! 

The following candidates have qualified for the August 20 Republican Primary and remain in the race as of this morning. The amount of support they have raised for their respective campaigns is also included. Write-in candidates are not listed because they will not be on the primary ballot but will appear on the Nov. 5 General Election ballot.


Clerk of Court and Comptroller

  • Jason English $65,519.25 
  • Ginger Pace $18,462.28

Supervisor of Elections

  • Cindy Hall $5,665
  • Tappie Villane $26,525


Santa Rosa County District 1 County Commissioner 

  • Rollar Ayers $0
  • Robert Burkett $28,281.07
  • Sam Parker $156,695
  • Aaron Williams $2,194.71

Santa Rosa County District 3 County Commissioner 

  • James Calkins $167,072.10
  • Jerry Couey $31,125
  • Rhett Rowell $52,893.41

Santa Rosa County District 5 County Commissioner

  • Mike Priest $0
  • Colten Wright $9,675


Superintendent of Schools

  • Dr. Karen Barber $63,503.91
  • David Godwin $18,927
  • Brenda Stephens $5,704.16

School Board District 2 (NON-PARTISAN RACE)

  • Mariya Calkins $0
  • Elizabeth Hewey $31,950
  • Oscar Locklin $38,434

School Board District 4 (NON-PARTISAN RACE)

  • Charles Elliott $17,275
  • Angie Straughn $13,065

Congratulations to Santa Rosa County Property Appraiser Greg Brown III, Sheriff Bob Johnson and Tax Collector Stan Colie Nichols for being unopposed. They will each serve another four-year term.

Mail out ballots for the August 20 Republican Primary will go out in mid-July. Early voting starts Aug. 5. Read more via Supervisor of Elections Tappie Villane’s website: