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Four Candidates For Okaloosa's District 5 Seat


It's a packed race for Okaloosa County's District 5 Commissioner seat. Four candidates are running for the position after Commissioner Kelly Windes announced last year he would not seek another term. 

Candidates include state Rep. Mel Ponder, Destin City Councilman Dewey “Parker” Destin, attorney Richard Scott Johnson, and businessman Wes Fell. 

Ponder was elected to represent District 4 in the Florida House of Representatives in 2016, taking Matt Gaetz’s seat as he moved on to U.S. Congress. Before the state house, Ponder served as Mayor of Destin from 2014 to 2016. In an interview with Crestview Community Television, Ponder said he made the “family call” to go back home to Okaloosa County so he could spend more time with his three kids.  

“My initial plans were to keep running all eight years in Tallahassee,” he said. “But when the open seat came about, my wife and I prayed about it…at the end of the day when I weighed my options five years from now what would I regret more?” 

Like fellow candidates, Ponder is a Republican with “strong conservative values.” On his website, he succinctly outlines the issues he cares about: balancing the budget, improving transportation and infrastructure, and supporting the military. In June, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Ponder’s bill (HB 171) into law that creates a process for service members and veterans to earn college credits for their military training.   

Destin is a sixth-generation native of Okaloosa County and lifelong Destin resident. Following in his father’s footsteps (who was a founding member of the Destin City Council), he was elected to the city council in 2016 where he sought transparency in government and “putting citizens back in charge,” as he said on the WSRE Rally 2020 program. 

“I want the opportunity to bring the people’s voice back to the commission,” he said. “I want the commission to be in the business of taking responsibility for solving our problems, I want to restore the faith in our leadership. I want to put an end to the north-end versus south-end brand of politics that has plagued the commission for decades and gotten us nowhere.” 

Serving the City of Destin, Parker sponsored legislation that put a building height cap on new developments, which requires voters to approve anything outside of the ruling. He also led the effort to move Destin’s municipal election day from March to November so it would align with general elections and increase voter turnout. 

Attorney Rich Johnson is running with his key issues being economic opportunity, responsible development, and accountability and transparency, according to his website. With his title company and background in building small residential developments, Johnson said he believes he has the skills to help improve infrastructure issues in the county. He also suggests better access to beaches with reserved parking for residents and a county-owned sports recreation facility. 

“I do not intend to make politics a career, I just love the county that I live in,” he said on the WSRE Rally 2020 program. “I want to work with people, I want to have a cooperative government and I want to know what the citizens ask for.”

Political newcomer Wes Fell has chosen to skip the primary and run as an NPA candidate to be on the Nov. 3 ballot, but make no mistake, he said, he’s a Republican. 

“I am and always will be a registered Republican and supporter of conservative views and issues, as long as those views and issues apply to all of the people of Okaloosa County,” he said on his campaign Facebook page. “I am in this race to win it.” 

He narrowed down his campaign issues with a music video that was released July 4 with lyrics such as “It’s time to change the tone, keep the money at home. Clean up the mess, vote for Wes.” On his website, Fell said he believes Tourist Development Council funds can be freed by privatizing the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center, he’d also like to explore ways to abolish the Mid-Bay Bridge tolls to help commuters who travel across it for work. 

“A person working in Destin living in Niceville or Crestview pays about $2,500 a year to cross that bridge,” he said at a candidate forum hosted by Crestview Community Television last month. “I think it’s a sin to have tolls on that bridge. I don’t give a damn what anybody says, we need to get the tolls off that bridge.” 

Early voting for Okaloosa County is August 8 to August 15. For more information, visit Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections. 

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.