Longtime commissioner, political newcomer are top contenders in Manatee’s GOP primary

·5 min read

Candidates in the countywide District 6 race for Manatee County Commission agree that the election comes down to differences in experience.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who was first elected to the board in 2006, is challenged by Jason Bearden, a small business owner and Marine Corps veteran, and Carol Felts, a community advocate in Myakka City. While Bearden and Felts are political newcomers, Whitmore has spent decades as an elected official.

“There’s quite a few projects that I haven’t finished yet and I want to see them through,” said Whitmore, who also served as mayor of Holmes Beach between 1998 and 2006. “Nobody has more experience than I do to get them done.”

Despite raising far less money than her opponents, Felts, 64, previously told the Bradenton Herald that she entered the race to become more involved in the government process.

“As a native and longtime resident, I have always taken an interest in how our communities are formed and how we are governed,” Felts said. “Instead of criticizing others, I decided the best way to understand the people and the process was to put myself in their shoes. And regardless of who wins an election, we can (and) will always continue to be educated, informed and involved and encourage others as well.”

Her campaign priorities include a full review of the county’s Land Development Code, providing more incentives to attract more affordable housing, and updating the county’s budget to spend money based on “objectives and quantifiable results.”

According to campaign finance documents, Whitmore leads in campaign finance contributions with $138,000. Bearden has raised more than $91,000 and Felts has collected about $11,000.

What are Bearden’s campaign promises?

Bearden, 39, has led a campaign that positions himself as a candidate with a completely different take on government than Whitmore by blaming the four-term commissioner for local traffic congestion, the county’s Piney Point response and COVID-19 mandates.

He has also published online ads comparing Whitmore to President Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi due to the amount of time each official has spent in office.

“After 30 years, Whitmore is way too liberal,” Bearden’s campaign said in one attack ad.

Bearden, who could not be reached for questions, has published several campaign videos highlighting his promises to protect the environment, improve infrastructure and preserve personal liberties.

As a Marine Corps veteran who served as a squad leader in Iraq, Bearden also said he believes he has the leadership skills necessary to make progress as a county commissioner.

What are Whitmore’s campaign promises?

After serving on the county commission for 16 years, Whitmore is hoping to secure another four-year term. If she is re-elected, Whitmore said she plans to prioritize securing more affordable housing options, resolving transportation congestion and improving utilities.

“We have to have infrastructure to maintain a good quality of life in Manatee County,” said Whitmore, 67. “We can do all that without raising taxes.”

Whitmore has pointed to her years of experience and her endorsement from U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, as proof that she is the right person for the job.

“I’m totally the most experienced candidate, the most pragmatic candidate,” Whitmore said. “Ever since I’ve been in office, I go to work every day and I’m prepared.”

I just don’t think people know what a real Republican is. I’ve been a Republican longer than my opponent has been alive and I’ve been a conservative my entire life. I believe strongly in fiscal responsibility.

Asked about her accomplishments while in office, Whitmore said she is proud of her work implementing a no-kill policy at the animal shelter, keeping taxes low and working to bring unemployment levels down after the Great Recession.

“I just don’t think people know what a real Republican is.”

Whitmore, Bearden clash over policies, theft

Whitmore has pointed to Bearden’s lack of experience in government positions and accused him of being unfamiliar with Manatee County.

“I am very respectful and proud of our veterans, but when you’re running for county commission, you need to know about the budget and I haven’t seen any inkling that (Bearden) knows what needs to be done in Manatee County. During these hard times we’ll see in the next year, I’ve got the budget experience,” Whitmore said.

Whitmore and Bearden have largely left Felts out of their campaign messaging, choosing instead to confront one another head-to-head. In June, Bearden asked law enforcement to press charges against Whitmore after she admitted to removing campaign signs from property in Holmes Beach.

The incumbent commissioner brought the signs to the police station and said the signs had been placed in violation of a Holmes Beach ordinance that prevented campaign signage from being displayed too far in advance of the election.

After a dispute from Bearden’s campaign, the city agreed to hold off on enforcing that ordinance due to a possible First Amendment challenge. As of Tuesday, Whitmore has not been charged with petit theft.

What to know about the District 6 election

Because there is at least one write-in candidate in the District 6 race, only registered Republicans that live throughout Manatee County will be able to participate. The winner will advance to the General Election where they will face Robert Lesher and Manuel Antonio Llamas.

  • Early voting has begun and runs until Saturday, Aug. 20.

  • Primary Election Day is on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Visit www.VoteManatee.com to learn more about your voting location.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore (left) is up against two candidates, Jason Bearden (right) and Carol Felts (not pictured), in Manatee County’s Republican primary election on August 23.
Commissioner Carol Whitmore (left) is up against two candidates, Jason Bearden (right) and Carol Felts (not pictured), in Manatee County’s Republican primary election on August 23.