PANAMA CITY — Two Bay County residents will be facing off for the District 6 seat of the Florida House of Representatives in August.
Philip “Griff” Griffitts, 50, and Brian Clowdus, 41, will be on the ballot for the 2022 primary elections in Bay County on Aug. 23. Both are registered Republicans looking to replace incumbent Jay Trumbull, who has reached his term limit.
District 6 was expanded during the last legislative session to cover all of Bay County.
Griffitts, a county commissioner, is a lifelong Bay County resident, and Clowdus is a former Alabama resident who moved to the area about three years ago.
Griffitts graduated from Florida State University in 1993 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Clowdus graduated from Amherst College in 2003 with a bachelor's degree and from the University of South Carolina in 2011 with a master's degree.
"The job of the state representative is incredibly important, and it's not a time for some on-the-job training," Griffitts said. "We need somebody who's ready to go up there and go to work today, and I feel like I'm that guy."
"My No. 1 goal is to be the voice of the people of Bay County," Clowdus said. "We need to have someone in a public position who is interested in being that voice for everyone, as opposed to being part of the system."Philip 'Griff' Griffitts
Deeper look into Florida House District 6 seat candidate Philip Griffitts
Griffitts, who has held the District 5 seat on the Bay County Commission for about six years, said he never had the goal when he was younger to become a politician. He is the son of Philip Griffitts Sr., the longest serving mayor in Panama City Beach history.
Griffitts said his path to politics randomly began about 20 years ago when the county was growing and developing its zoning maps and land development regulations. His family owned a hotel on the west end of Panama City Beach that was at risk because some residents were pushing for the area surrounding his business to be zoned residential.
If the zoning change had been approved, it would have meant his family's hotel could not have been rebuilt if damaged at least 51% by a natural disaster, Griffitts said.
He then began attending every commission meeting to make sure the zoning change did not happen. Through this, he was appointed to the Bay County Planning Board, which he served on for about a decade. He then served on the Bay County Tourist Development Council for about two years before running for county commissioner.
"I had no intention and never had a desire to do it, but I felt like it was kind of a door being opened (by) God," Griffitts said. "It has been very rewarding and challenging at the same time. ... I never would have ever dreamed that I would run for the state House."
His decision to run for state representative was sparked in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm that decimated Bay County in October 2018, while he and other commissioners were working to help the county bounce back.
"We were knocking on doors in Tallahassee, reminding the folks around the state what we were going through," Griffitts said. "Four weeks after the hurricane, Tallahassee had no idea that we didn't have a working hospital and no operational street lights. It was like out of sight, out of mind."
If elected, Griffitts said he not only will work to make sure Bay County is never again forgotten by state officials, but that it secures all possible funding to improve the area.
"This is not a goal for me," he said. "This is me giving back. This is me (trying to) make my community better. This is not a stepping stone for me to go be something bigger and better."
A look at District 6 seat candidate Brian Clowdus
Clowdus, a theater director and producer, said he took off work the past nine months to focus "100%" on his campaign.
While Clowdus is originally from Alabama, he is no newcomer to Bay County, which he described as his family's "go-to" vacation destination when he was young.
'It's always been our second home," he said. "It was my goal to retire in Bay County, but I made that decision to move here sooner rather than later. ... I never had the intention of running for office. This was never part of my plan. I am not a politician. I am not the handpicked candidate."
Clowdus said he got into politics as a volunteer for Donald Trump's campaign when he moved to the area. In that role, he "knocked on thousands of doors" in Bay County which he said allowed him to get to know local voters "on a grass-roots level."
He also said that while doing this, many residents told him they were tired of established politicians.
"They were sick of people in Bay County being handpicked for office," Clowdus said. "There is referred to as the 'good old boys system' in Bay County, and basically it's this idea that you have to be born in Bay County, you have to be part of this establishment in order to run for office. ... There are these systems all across the country, and we're starting to see (them) crumble."
Clowdus noted his campaign platform, which he crafted during the past 14 months while speaking with voters, focuses on a handful of key points included in what he dubs "The People's Plan."
It includes being an accessible and transparent public servant if elected, and making sure state funding is equally distributed throughout all municipalities in Bay County.
"We're still addressing cleanup from Hurricane Michael, (and) there are areas of Bay County that almost look like third-world countries that have been completely forgotten," Clowdus said. "You don't see these places unless you're out in the community knocking on doors.
"... The one thing I'm concerned about is getting the endorsement of the people of Bay County, and I will unapologetically fight for them. Period."
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Two Bay County residents battling for Florida House District 6 seat