Early voting starts Saturday for the upcoming June 18 special election, when voters throughout Florida House District 7 will choose a successor to former Rep. Halsey Beshears, a Monticello Republican appointed in January by Gov. Ron DeSantis as secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
The special election pits Port St. Joe Republican Jason Shoaf, in an easy winner in the April GOP primary, against little-known Democratic challenger Ryan Terrell, who was unopposed for the nomination.
Shoaf is the odds-on favorite to win the seat, given the conservative leanings of the sprawling, largely rural district made up of Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Jefferson, Lafayette, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla and part of Leon counties.
In addition, he has far outraised Terrell in fundraising, collecting $37,775 from April 5 through May 9, according to a newly filed finance report. Terrell raised $663 during the period.
County Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley said early voting will begin Saturday at both the Apalachicola elections office. 47 Avenue F, and the Carrabelle annex, 912 NW Avenue A. It will then run daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Saturday, June 15.
She said her office has so far sent out 1,344 absentee ballots, and has received as of press time 569 back. Requests to mail out absentee ballots can be made up until June 12.
Riley said she expects a turnout of about 30 percent, similar to that of the April GOP primary. “We were actually one of the higher turnouts for the race,” she said. “That’s pretty good considering it was Republican only.”
The county has 8,008 registered voters, comprising 3,939 Democrats, 2,864 Republicans and1,205 with other, or no, party affiliation.
Election Day balloting will be at voters’ usual precincts, and will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The two candidates’ positions on the issues are in keeping with the typical party platforms. Both men have stressed that they will fight for Hurricane Michael relief, and do all they can to help the region recover from the Oct. 10, 2018 devastation.
Terrell has promised to sponsor an Academy of Natural Resources magnet program, that would offer different certifications in the environmental sciences and agricultural studies to high school students. He said he would like to see this apply to helping with ongoing issues such as the declining oyster industry. “It could also help in creating a partnership between companies and the school system to restore the Bay in a cost-effective manner, without costing taxpayers more money,” he writes on his website.
Terrell has not voiced unfettered support for abortion rights, but said he opposes Alabama and Georgia’s move to broadly ban abortions, including for persons who experienced rape or incest. “While I believe that life is sacred, these bills are shortsighted and lack perspective. They do not account for the reality women face before and after an abortion: access to pregnancy prevention, sexual assault trauma, and whether new mothers have access to support,” he wrote.
He has challenged Shoaf’s pledge to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, which he says has championed help for sexual assault survivors, such as himself. He said he endured “a years-long path of first addiction, then later, severe PTSD, night terrors, depression, and insomnia - a path which I still struggle to overcome eight years later. If I was a woman, I couldn't imagine the pain and horror of then discovering that you now would have to live with a daily reminder of this vile act - because you're pregnant.”
Terrell writes that he is running in part due to the destruction of the hurricane. “I saw friends tragically end their lives and fall into personally destructive cycles because of the trauma that day. They felt there wasn’t anyone fighting for them,” he said. “I’m running because people need hope. I will fight for those who, like me, have been fighting to survive. I am running because I know how one feels when you’ve been abandoned by society. Where an economy only works for the few, and leaves the rest of us behind.”
He promises to work to increase healthcare access by collaborating with nonprofits, religious/ faith-based institutions, private business, and providers to bring mobile screenings, rural clinics, and prenatal and family planning for expecting mothers.
“I will also continue to fight for our public hospitals that have struggled to open or stay open due to hurricane damage,” he wrote.
“I wasn’t groomed to run by wealthy family connections or elite power players. I, rather, am representative of the people I would serve: having experienced illness, homelessness, and poverty; yet like fellow residents of District 7, stood resilient through it all,” he wrote.
Shoaf has written that he plans to defend the agenda of Pres. Trump, stressing that he supports the president’s plan to build the wall along the Mexican border, He promises to fight to ensure so-called “sanctuary cities” remain illegal in Florida, and to pass laws to ensure that state law enforcement works with federal law enforcement such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He has promised to “never back down from protecting our Second Amendment rights when they come under attack,” and stresses that he is “ardently pro-life and opposes state-funded abortion in any form (and will fight for) prohibiting all abortions except for when the mother’s life is at risk.”
Shoaf has written that he “opposes tax increases in any form on businesses and families in our state” and will work to reduce regulations, to boost vocational education, and for legislation that helps farmers bring their crops to market faster and more efficiently.