Santa Rosa commissioner rails for Democrat-less government. His own party says he went too far

Shana Alford is a University of West Florida-educated marine biologist, an oyster farmer and the director of a laboratory that monitors the health of local waterways.

"Anyone who knows me knows I care about the health of our waterways," she said.

Santa Rosa County Commissioner Kerry Smith, who nominated Alford to serve on the county's Marine Advisory Committee, called her uniquely suited to hold the position.

"She's got a heart for what she does," he said.

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And while Alford said she has never considered the party affiliation of a political candidate in deciding how to vote, County Commissioner James Calkins attempted to use her status as a registered Democrat to derail her appointment to the committee, a non-partisan body whose listed duties are "topics related to boating activities."

When the subject of the board appointment arose last week at the county's regular meeting, Calkins proclaimed that research he'd conducted had revealed to him Alford's association with "the most evil party in this country."

"I will not vote for a Democrat to be appointed on any board in Santa Rosa County," he said. "We have a lot of Republicans qualified to serve in this position and I absolutely cannot support a Democrat."

As is often the case, Calkins stood alone in opposition to the appointment of Alford and she was placed on the committee by a 4-1 vote. His failure to draw support from a single one of his fellow board members seemed only to intensify the tone of his rhetoric.

"I think our community will be outraged to understand, to know, that this board is putting Democrats on boards. They're infiltrating a lot of things in this county, and they're actively donating to some members of this board," Calkins said. "I find it interesting we're even debating this. Ron DeSantis would never appoint a Democrat. Most Republicans in this state would never appoint or push for a Democrat."

Commissioner Ray Eddington interrupted Calkins briefly to state his belief that Alford be given a chance to prove herself on the Marine Advisory Committee. Smith, who sat mostly quiet during the Calkins diatribe, said later that though he is a life-long conservative Republican, his fellow commissioner had no business labeling Democrats as evil.

"For someone to say a party is evil goes against the American system. This system works because we have opposing ideas," he said. "We need two parties for the system to work."

Commission Chairman Colten Wright said his comments show "how misguided and out of touch Calkins is with the citizens of Santa Rosa County."

He said he had been contacted by numerous people, mostly Republicans, who were infuriated by the outburst.

"Contrary to his belief, it is possible to be a Republican and still respect and care for your fellow citizens, regardless of their registered political party," Wright said. "All citizens are important and deserve to be heard, even more so if they're willing to volunteer their time, money or energy to help our community. We are stronger together."

At one point Calkins, who did not respond to a phone call or text message seeking comment, appeared to be edging toward accusing some of his fellow commissioners of being something less than full-fledged Republicans.

"We have real R.I.N.O.s (Republicans in Name Only) that are truly sitting ...," he said without completing his thought.

David Farrow, Santa Rosa County's elected Republican State Committeeman, said comments like those made by Calkins words have no place in civil society.

"This is one of the issues we have with our nation and our local government. Most people think 'It's my way or the highway,'" Farrow said. "It seems like we all have our little groups. We need to have one America and one Santa Rosa County. It's OK to have differing opinions and work together for the betterment of our community. That's how we build a great county, great state and great nation."

Carmen Reynolds, also a staunch Republican, said she plans to attend the June 5 meeting of the Santa Rosa County Commission to address Calkins' comments.

"He's saying, 'You aren't suitable, you don't exist, you are subjugated to the trash bin,'" Reynolds said.

She said she considers Calkins comments every bit as offensive as an anti-Semitic slur made in March by Commissioner Sam Parker. Parker would eventually apologize for the remark.

Santa Rosa County District 3 Commissioner James Calkins drew criticism from both sides of the aisle when he suggested that Democrats are the "the most evil party in this country" and should be kept out of the county's public offices.

"This is hate speech. It is unacceptable that citizens are being targeted as evil and not worthy of contributing or participating in their county government," she said. "A comment about Jews got national attention. This month, it's hate speech against Democrats. This is short sighted and divisive."

Calkins is not, however, alone in his beliefs.

One supporter, Michael Stevens, showed up at a special zoning meeting of the commission held later the same day Calkins made the "evil party" comments.

Stevens turned an invitation to the speaker's podium to address a zoning issue into a rant against Democrats and the county commissioners who had supported Alford.

"You guys put a Democrat on the Marine Advisory Board ... you cannot do that," he said.

When Smith apparently chuckled at the meeting interruption, Stevens continued. "Kerry Smith, you may think it's funny, but you're not getting re-elected, and if I can help it we're going to boot you beforehand."

As a deputy arrived to escort Stevens from the room, he didn't hesitate to direct his own "R.I.N.O." blast at three members of the board.

"You're all going to get re-elected by nobody," Stevens said. "I've already got replacements."

Though delivered at different meetings, Calkins and Stevens' vitriolic criticism of the Democratic Party and its members sounded eerily similar. Both fretted over what Democrats are doing to Washington and the party's apparent condoning of "porn" being introduced into local school libraries.

Calkins' wife, Mariya, started the Santa Rosa County chapter of Moms for Liberty in March and in May presented a list of 65 books to the School Board the group wants removed from school shelves due to what they say is offensive content.

Prior to the appearance of Moms for Liberty, the county's book reconsideration process was not an issue. In Santa Rosa County, parents decide whether their child has unlimited, limited or no access to school libraries, including classroom libraries.

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While commissioners seemed mostly resigned to let Calkins air his views at the County Commission meeting, they appeared more animated when listening to Stevens' high-pitched rant.

Afterward, Smith told those in attendance he had "got the giggles" like a kid in church, and Wright used Stevens appearance to take a jab at Calkins.

"Those of you in the audience, for Mr. Calkins benefit, when you come up to petition the board, you may want to let him know whether you are a registered Republican or Democrat so he knows how to vote on your case," Wright said.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: James Calkins wants Democrats left out of Santa Rosa County government