DESTIN — Five years in Tallahassee will apparently have been enough for state Rep. Mel Ponder, who has all but decided to step down to seek the District 5 Okaloosa County Commission seat in 2020.
Although he said his decision won’t be final before Friday, Ponder has scheduled an announcement for 1:30 p.m. that day at the Just Love Coffee Café in Destin, where he served as a City Council member from 2002-06 and as mayor from 2014 until January 2016.
Retired Okaloosa County Judge T. Patterson Maney will be among those looking to replace Ponder as the District 4 state representative.
“If it’s an open seat, I intend to pre-qualify next week and run,” said Maney, a retired Army Reserve brigadier general.
Ponder, a Republican, said he began weighing the decision to step away from state politics and run for local office following Commissioner Kelly Windes’ Aug. 20 announcement that he would not seek a third term as the District 5 representative.
Important factors in the decision to seek a county seat were his daughter starting high school and a chance to return to his local government roots, he said.
“Having things back here at home is of the utmost importance,” he said.
Ponder stands to join a group of four who have thus far prefiled as candidates to replace Windes. The outgoing commissioner said he has spoken to others who are considering a run for office but have not yet entered the fray.
Asked whether he might consider a run of his own for the Florida House, Windes was quick with his answer.
“I’ve got grandbabies and snapper fishing that are calling,” he said. “That’s where I’m going to be.”
Others who have prefiled to run for the County Commission seat are Destin City Councilman Parker Destin, Niceville businessman Jonathan Tallman, Niceville attorney Richard Scott Johnson and Fort Walton Beach businessman Wes Fell.
As things stand now, the District 5 race could include a rematch of the 2016 state House race between Ponder and Tallman. Tallman finished second in the Republican primary and Ponder had only to defeat a write-in candidate in November to secure the seat.
Ponder, who originally won the District 4 House seat in 2016 after then-state Rep. Matt Gaetz stepped down to run for Congress, will be able to serve through the remainder of his fifth legislative session before leaving the job.
In 2020 he will hold his first chairmanship on the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee. Children, families and seniors are a priority of House Speaker Jose Oliva, and “this committee will have a chance to pass some really meaningful legislation,” Ponder said.
Two other County Commission seats are up for grabs in 2020, although the District 5 race is the only one that won’t feature an incumbent seeking re-election. Two-term commissioner Nathan Boyles has drawn competition from Baker resident Clyde Lewis in District 3. Graham Fountain currently stands unopposed in District 1, and he has announced he will seek a second term.