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Jason Bearden wins Manatee County Commission at-large seat

Jason Bearden unseated four-term Commissioner Carol Whitmore with 61.54% of the votes.

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Jason Bearden won the primary election for a Manatee County at-large seat on the County Commission, defeating longtime Commissioner Carol Whitmore on Aug. 23.

Bearden received 61.54% of the votes, while Whitmore receiving just 25.33%, and candidate Carol Felts finished third with 13.14%.

Bearden’s win is significant for marking the end of Whitmore’s four terms on the board, which began in 2006 and made her the longest-serving current member of the Manatee County Commission.

“What shows today is that the people of Manatee County want to see change,” said Bearden, who will face write-in candidates Robert Lesher and Manuel Antonio Llamas on Nov. 8 in the general election. “We have a lot of patriots that live in Manatee County, and we know people are paying more attention than they ever have.”

He said he already is looking ahead.

“It’s a great feeling, but the work has just begun," Bearden said. “There’s a lot we need to do to make sure our county is on the right path in future years.”

With the election of Mike Rahn to the District 4 seat, at 62.46% of the vote, against incumbent Misty Servia, who received 37.54% of the vote, the election represents the departure of two Republican commissioners who basically challenged the current voting block of staunch Republicans and Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, James Satcher, George Kruse and Kevin Van Ostenbridge.

Jason Bearden's wife Katie Bearden and 6-year-old daughter Tessa Bearden join him during a speech.
Jason Bearden's wife Katie Bearden and 6-year-old daughter Tessa Bearden join him during a speech.

He said he believes it will represent a change in the direction.

“We’ll definitely be able to work together to work together a lot more. There won’t be as much friction as there was in the past from the old board,” he said.

Whitmore said she wished Bearden all the best following his victory.

“It’s been an honor to be a county commissioner,” she said. “I thank the people of Manatee County for having me involved in their lives.”

She said she plans to stay active in the community in other ways. “I’ve never not had a job since I was 14. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family, but I have no intention of riding off into the sunset.”

Despite his hopes to take the board in a new direction, Bearden said he believes Whitmore may have something to teach him.

“She did 16 years on that board, so that says a lot about somebody, to be willing to put that much into serving the people,” he said.

Celebrating at the Grove in Lakewood Ranch, Bearden was joined by numerous campaign volunteers as well as Vice Chair of the Manatee County Republican Party Gavin Hoover and District 1 Commissioner James Satcher.

Also present were his family members including his wife, Katie; 6-year-old daughter, Tessa; and 8-week-old daughter, Allie.

Campaign volunteer and Manatee County resident Larry Hayden said, “We’re just super proud to be a part of this. Jason Bearden is one of a kind. Whatever he says, he does. He always upholds his word, and he’s a unique individual. His character, his demeanor, his faith, his go-get-'em attitude and his follow-through — it’s the true spirit of a Marine, and we’re super glad he’s had this opportunity to represent us.”

As a first-time contender for commissioner, Bearden had campaigned on a platform of personal liberty and infrastructure development. He said the inspiration for his campaign was the restrictions he had witnessed on businesses and citizens during COVID-19.

He also called for smarter development, saying the county should value both infrastructure growth, as well as residents’ input on new developments, and should rework its comprehensive plan to allow for easier implementation of features such as workforce housing.

Sarasota's Becky and Larry Hayden applaud Bearden's win. (Photo by Ian Swaby)
Sarasota's Becky and Larry Hayden applaud Bearden's win. (Photo by Ian Swaby)

“We have to look at all things,” he said. “What's the primary role of an elected official? To always protect the rights of the people.”

Bearden said he did not favor the current environment of commission meetings.

“I’m not about all the drama,” he said. “I think there’s just a few individuals who honestly bring a lot of that drama, and I’m not going to put up with it. I don’t have time for it. I want to get in there, get the job done, and do what I have to do to serve the people.”

During her campaign, Whitmore had drawn a focus toward her past governmental experience.

Her previous experience included serving as mayor of Holmes Beach from 1998-2006.

Previously, Whitmore told the Observer that her experience in authoring budgets as mayor would be key to managing a possible recession, calling the authoring of budgets one of the most important, and one of her favorite, activities.

Whitmore said she supported development based on state laws that are pro-development. “When we're at those meetings, it's a quasi-judicial hearing. We can't deny anything because we don't like it.”

Like Bearden, Whitmore said she took issue with the environment of commission meetings. “I've seen things that I've never seen in my entire career: unprofessionalism, politicking at the dais, which I always thought was illegal. Commissioners are forgetting they don't represent their own personal agenda,” she said.

Bearden had also contended against Carol Felts, another first-time commission candidate who had focused her campaign on slowing the pace of development in the county.

Felts had previously told the Observer that as the Lakewood Ranch area grew, it would no longer have essential services it required including first responders, teachers, schools, and roadways. She called for an “iron-clad” land development code that would impose limits on rezoning, and called for commissioners who would form relationships with their constituency "rather than each other on the board."


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