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Gainer Wins Florida State Senate Seat, One Of Many Unopposed Candidates

Bay County

When the dust settled after qualifying closed on Friday, June 24, a number of candidates won their races unopposed. Leading the way is Republican Bay County Commissioner George Gainer, who’s now set to take over the new State Senate District 2 seat.

With incumbent Don Gaetz unable to seek reelection due to term limits, the stage was set for a battle over the newly reapportioned District 2 seat between Gainer and Gaetz’ son, Matt Gaetz.

Gainer, from Panama City, had raised over $324,000 in campaign cash since September and aired his first political ad in November of last year.

With that his campaign against Gaetz was underway. But, then in March came a surprise announcement by First District Congressman Jeff Miller.

“I’ve been in Washington now 15 years, the last six as chairman of the VA Committee,” said Miller, as he explained his decision not to run for reelection. “And those VA Committee hearings are coming to an end for me because there’s a term limit. I just thought it was the appropriate time to depart.”

Less than two weeks later, Matt Gaetz, a Republican state Representative from Fort Walton Beach, abandoned his run for state Senate and set his sights on Capitol Hill.

I’m not running for congress because I want to go to Washington,” said Gaetz. “I’m running for Congress because we can’t trust Washington.”

With Gaetz out just three months before qualifying, that left little time for someone else to mount a run, leaving Gainer as the lone candidate and likely winner of District 2 seat.

Gainer, 73, is a native of Northwest Florida and, according to his website, owns 8 car dealerships in North Florida, including Panama City.

He was elected to the Bay County Commission as a young man back in 1968 and held the office for one term. After 30 years, he returned to politics, and has served as Bay County Commissioner since his reelection in 2002.

He did not return calls from WUWF. But, during his brief campaign the conservative Republican talked about bringing in good paying jobs to boost the region’s economy and the need to “keep our families safe.”

According to his campaign material, that means protecting gun rights and supporting law enforcement. Additionally, he claims to be pro-growth, while also ensuring the region’s natural resources are protected.

Gainer would have had some work to do to raise his profile in the eastern part of the Florida state senate district 2, which includes most of Okaloosa County and runs west through Bay and north to Jackson. Now, it doesn’t matter. Instead of a hard fought primary election in August, he’s looking to be sworn into office in November.

In addition to Gainer’s win, there were 18 other state and county level candidates who were all reelected to their offices unopposed. As usual, that includes the vast majority of constitutional offices on the ballots in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties; a total of nine.

State Attorney Bill Eddins and Public Defender Bruce Miller were reelected without opposition.

Santa Rosa Superintendent of Schools Tim Wyrosdick was reelected unopposed to his third term in office. Lane Lynchard won a third term on the Santa Rosa County Commission District 5. And, in Okaloosa County, District 3 and District 5 incumbents Nathan Boyles and Kelly Windes were automatically reelected to their second terms.

Boyles credits the timing of and work done during their first terms in the aftermath of the controversy involving former tourism head Mark Bellinger and his misuse of BP oil spill money.

“So, the first 3 years of our terms were really dedicated to kind of cleaning up and picking up the pieces in the post-Bellinger aftermath,” Boyles said. “And I believe both us being reelected unopposed shows that the public generally believes we’ve made good progress as a whole in the county these last four years.”

Boyles says he’s proud that Okaloosa has one of the lowest ad valorem rates in the state, while also pursuing major projects. For example, he points to the recently completed administration building in Shalimar and a new $25 million county courthouse in Crestview. Demolition of the old facility and construction will take place later this summer.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.