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Politics

Bay County House Seat Draws More Candidates in Crowded Contest

July 28, 2013 - 6:00pm

With two additions to the race, an increasingly crowded field of candidates is battling for the Florida House seat currently held by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, who faces term limits in 2014.

Former Bay County School Board Member Thelma Rohan, who is a leader with the county GOP, filed her paperwork to run for the seat at the end of last week, becoming the seventh candidate running for the House seat which represents parts of Bay County. There are four other Republicans also in the race: Panama City attorney and engineer Mark Anderson who teaches at Florida State; congressional staffer Tho Bishop; businesswoman Melissa Hagan who currently serves as Gulf Coast State Colleges director of development; and radio show host Brian Rust.

Having moved to Bay County in 1978, Rohan has roots in the area and she told Sunshine State News she was happy that four of her five children still reside there. Rohan said that her family was one of the chief reasons she went back to grad school to study education policy before being elected to the county school board in 1998.

One of my goals was to make Bay County a community my children wanted to return to, Rohan told Sunshine State News on Monday.

Rohan was unopposed for a second term in 2002 but she lost her bid for county school superintendent. Since that time, when Hagan left her position as committeewoman on the county Republican Executive Committee (REC), Rohan successfully ran to finish her term. Rohan still sits on the REC. I wanted to stay involved, do as much as I can, Rohan said about her time on the REC.

Rohan has also been active in the Bay County League of Women Voters, even leading the group. During her tenure as chairwoman, Rohan said she conservatized the League so much that more liberal members left to become more active with the county Democrats. Jamie Shepard, who had been the president of the Bay County League of Women Voters, filed to run for the Democratic nomination at the end of June. Rohan had warm words for Shepard who she called a friend.

Turning her focus to the campaign and what she would do in Tallahassee if elected, Rohan said she would prove worthy of the voters trust.

I have a strong desire to return peoples trust in the government, Rohan told Sunshine State News. She added she thought legislators were taking steps to make things better. Theyve started, she said. Theyve done a pretty good job but its not finalized.

Saying she was extremely conservative, Rohan said government is eroding our personal freedoms" and called for less government involvement in the economy, saying less regulations would create jobs.

Theres a logjam of regulations, she said, pointing to recent environmental fines on Eastern Shipyard, one of the largest employers in Bay County, as hurting job creation. Regulations are choking growth.

Citing her experience, Rohan said she hoped to focus on education on the campaign trail and in Tallahassee if elected. Local interests are often always overlooked, she said. Were often unable to meet the needs of our local school districts. Ive experienced this firsthand.

Rohan said there were too many administrative tasks thrown on teachers which cut into their focus on the classroom.

Activist Ryan Singleton jumped in earlier in the month as he looks to take on Shepard for the Democratic nomination. In the middle of the month, Singleton, who just graduated from Florida A&M University, filed his paperwork to run for the Democratic nomination for the House seat.

Singleton, who is 23, told Sunshine State News after he entered that he hopes his campaign will encourage young voters to become more active in the political process. Theres not many youths who try to make an impact in the political world, he said.

Singleton called for more funding for public education and health sciences and more focus on federal health programs including Medicaid and Medicare.

Bay County is a tough area for Democrats. Mitt Romney took 71 percent there in November and, while he was trounced across the state by Bill Nelson in the Senate race, Connie Mack pulled almost 60 percent in Bay County in 2012.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

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