The 2024 election season may seem like a long way off, but three candidates have already pre-filed to run for the District 3 Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners seat.
District 3, which runs the entire length of Okaloosa County’s western border, covers much of Valparaiso and western Niceville. While all county residents vote for commissioners from every district, a candidate must reside in the district they hope to represent. The District 3 seat is currently held by Commissioner Nathan Boyles, who has announced that he will not stand for re-election when his term ends in November 2024. Commissioners serve four-year terms.
Just because a candidate pre-files to run for office doesn’t mean that his or her name will appear on the ballot. Candidates must qualify by either gathering enough signatures on a petition or paying a fee. As of March 17 (the most recent information available on the Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections website), the following individuals have begun the process by pre-filing:
District 3’s map. Candidates for the district seat, which includes Valparaiso and western Niceville in its geographic boundaries, must reside within the district.
Crestview resident and current city council member Andrew Rencich pre-filed on Jan. 17. An Okaloosa County resident since 2011, Rencich moved to the area along with the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group when it relocated to its current location outside of Crestview. Now a member of the Florida National Guard, Rencich, 37, is a business owner who said he first got involved in politics because he didn’t like what he saw happening on the Crestview City Council.
“We’ve been able to turn the city’s operation on its head, in a good way,” Rencich said. “I want to serve on the county commission because I want to focus on maintaining that continuity between the cities and the county. I don’t want to things to turn to division.”
Rencich said that owning his own business affords him the flexibility to serve in public office. He said his first priority if elected would be to continue the development of the Shoal River Ranch property in north Okaloosa County in order to promote more industry and jobs for county residents.
“Our economy has tourism and the military, and they’re great,” he said. “But we need high paying jobs to serve as the third leg of the stool. We need to bring industry to our area that will provide that type of employment. As the owner of a small business, I understand how important that is.”
For more information about Rencich, visit his campaign’s website.
Destin resident Sherri Cox pre-filed on Jan. 19. Cox, 47, owns a small consulting firm specializing in brand launch and development, real estate development, and political consulting. She was elected as Okaloosa County’s State Committeewoman for the Florida Republican Party in 2020.
A native of Okaloosa County, Cox describes herself as “a staunch supporter of our military, law enforcement, and first responders.” She points to her involvement in the community, including raising funds for the family of the late Destin Fire Chief Mike Urenda, who passed away unexpectedly at age 47, as one of the reasons why she wants to serve on the county commission.
“For several years now, … my political ventures have centered around seeking candidates like the beloved late Florida Senator Greg Evers, and Florida Senator George Gainer, both deeply rooted in not only preserving the many cultures and flavors which make Okaloosa so palatable to so many, but making those cultures work together for a better Okaloosa, not just a newer one. The newer is coming, because everyone sees what we have here: a unique area rich in so many luxuries packaged together so beautifully … . That kind of growth needs to be done in a manner that maintains our ability to preserve the true flavor of Okaloosa. After much encouragement from many others, and years of having advocated for our county’s citizens at every level of government, I have decided the best way to continue to do so is to have an actual vote in that process (on the county commission).”
For more information on Sherri Cox, visit her campaign website.
The most recent candidate to pre-file for the District 3 seat is Wade Merritt, who lives in the Escambia Farms community near Baker. Merritt, 46, is an Air Force veteran who first came to Okaloosa County in 1998. Now a small business owner, he said his main reason for running for a seat on the county commission is to give a voice to “the average working person.”
Although he serves as a commissioner for the Blackman Fire District, Merritt doesn’t consider himself a politician.
“I ran unopposed,” he said with a laugh. He added that he’s been thinking about running for office for a while, in part because he isn’t sure if the current members of the board of county commissioners truly understand what it’s like for Okaloosa County residents who struggle to make a living.
“I’m sure they’re good people,” he said, “but how many of them have ever had to eat Ramen and baloney sandwiches?”
Merritt said his first priority if elected would be to take a closer look at the county’s current permitting and approval process for roads and buildings, and to see how current county departments are working together.
“I want to take a whole look at it to see how we can bring a common sense approach to how things operate,” he said.
Merritt, who pre-filed on March 17, said his campaign is in the process of creating a website.
“We’re still in the early stages, so it’s not ready yet.”