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Republicans Calkins and Rudman square off for Florida House District 3

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Dr. Joel Rudman and Mariya Calkins

Update: 12 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10

Incumbent Jayer Williamson has endorsed Dr. Joel Rudman for the Florida House of Representatives District 3 seat. He made the announcement Wednesday morning on his Facebook page.

"Honestly, I had no intentions of endorsing," he said in the post. "I actually told both candidates over two months ago that I didn't plan on endorsing either one of them."

Williamson said neither candidate had shined as a "perfect candidate" in his opinion, but the Rudman was the best candidate in this race because he is a "proven conservative" and for his willingness to work with those who don't agree with him.

"(He's) not scared to answer a question, even if he feels you disagree with him," Williamson said. "Even more importantly, he is not going to vilify you if you disagree."

Without naming Mariya Calkins, Williamson said the next District 3 representative should be working to balance the budget and pass policy, not fight over hot button issues.

"Regurgitating the same three or four talking points over and over doesn’t get policy passed," he said.

It's the difference between "being a show horse and a work horse" Williamson added.

"From what I have seen from Doctor Joel Rudman, he is ready to be our next workhorse."

Original story:

There will be at least one new face representing Northwest Florida in Tallahassee following the 2022 Election.

The Florida House of Representatives District 3 seat is up-for-grabs, with incumbent Jayer Williamson announcing in January that he would not seek re-election.

Now, two Republicans and one write-in candidate are vying to replace him.

With write-in Sandra Maddox conducting a ghost campaign — no website and no money raised, the real race for the office is between the Republicans, Mariya Calkins and Joel Rudman.

Calkins, who lives in Milton and is married to District 3 Santa Rosa Commissioner James Calkins, was first to declare her candidacy for the open District 3 seat, which covers most of Santa Rosa County and a portion of Okaloosa. A map of the district is available online.

“Well, the biggest issue right now is the inflation, hurting all of us, hurting seniors, those living from paycheck to paycheck,” she declared ahead of a recent candidate forum in Milton.

“Especially in our district, it’s infrastructure that needs to be worked on because we’re the fastest growing community.”

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Sandra Averhart
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WUWF Public Media
Mariya Calkins, Republican candidate for Florida House District 3, talks with supporters at a July candidate forum at the Santa Rosa County Auditorium.

In the battle for Republican votes, the one-time legislative aide for former Republican state Rep. Mike Hill, touts herself as conservative, with plans to keep taxes low, support law enforcement and preserve constitutional protections. Calkins also proclaims to be 100% pro-life and 100% pro-gun.

At the “Shootin’ Straight” debate hosted by Gulf Coast Guns in July, she stated second amendment rights should never be infringed. And, although she agreed to support efforts to repeal the state’s ban on weapons sales to individuals younger than 21, she said that would not be her top legislative priority.

“My first bill would be a constitutional carry,” said Calkins, referencing a bill that would allow individuals in Florida to carry a concealed firearm, without requiring a license.

“That’s why Rep. Sabatini, who actually sponsored that bill and fought for it for two years, he chose me in this race. He endorsed me. He trusts me, that I will finish the job.”

During the 2022 Legislative Session, Sabatini’s bill died in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee.

On the issue of gun rights, Rudman, a physician from Navarre, is generally in lockstep. His one exception relates to people who are mentally ill, although, he does not see the need for the “red flag” provision in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

“As a physician, I have something called a Baker Act. That guy that I was referring to, the schizophrenic, we Baker Act that individual. So, we separate him from his gun by putting him in an asylum. He went to Chattahoochee.”

Describing himself as a Constitutional conservative, this Rudman’s first run for political office. He says was pulled into the race after his freedom of speech as a physician was threatened due to his outspoken opposition to masks and other mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was actually called to testify in Tallahassee on behalf of a physician freedom of speech bill. So, you know, my first priority when I get to Tallahassee will be to protect everyone’s freedoms from government overreach,” Rudman said.

That leads to his legislative priority, a bill to rewrite the statute as it pertains to emergency powers in response to medical emergencies, such as COVID.

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Sandra Averhart
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WUWF Public Media
Dr. Joel Rudman, Republican candidate for Florida House District 3, talks with an interested voter at a July candidate forum at the Santa Rosa County Auditorium.

“I’m gonna raise the bar so high that no bureaucrat in the state of Florida will ever have the authority to lockdown your church, lockdown your school, lockdown your business, or lockdown your home, ever again, over a virus,” Rudman declared.

During the height of the pandemic, Rudman began using Facebook to post reassuring messages to his patients. Since entering the race in March, he’s ramped up his use of the platform to highlight various issues in the district.

“As you guys know, flooding is a big problem in the district. Infrastructure’s a big problem in the district and that’s something I have to fight for money for when I get to Tallahassee,” Rudman said in a recent post on a rainy morning outside his medical office on Highway 98.

The Pregnancy Resource Center of Navarre in the same complex gave him a chance to highlight his pro-life position on the abortion issue.

Back at the forum hosted by Gulf Coast Guns, voters in the district were able to submit questions for the candidates.

While Rudman opposes mandates aimed at controlling the pandemic, he was forced to defend his early endorsement of the COVID-19 vaccine for his most at-risk patients.

“When did my feelings start to change? When the data came in,” said the doctor. “I would say right around June or July of 2021, when you started hearing cases of people who were vaccinated, but still caught the disease.”

For Calkins, who was born in the former USSR, voter questions centered on her U.S. citizenship since 2018 and whether she had any continuing loyalties to her native Russia, particularly in light of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

“When you become a naturalized citizen, you have to take an oath and pledge to one country and one country only and that’s the United States of America,” she declared of her loyalty to the U.S., even though she acknowledged still having friends in Russia.

By all indications, the race between Calkins and Rudman is a close one.

The latest from the Florida Division of Elections shows each had spent over $130,000 on their campaigns.

Calkins, a Trump supporter, has the endorsement of incumbent Northwest Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.

Rudman, who is aligning himself with Governor Ron DeSantis, has been endorsed by former Cong. Jeff Miller.

Primary Election Day is Aug. 23. Early voting began Monday in Santa Rosa County and will start Saturday, Aug. 13 in Okaloosa. The winner will face token opposition from write-in Maddox in the November General Election.

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.