When voters in Gulf County’s District 2 visit the ballot box to vote for their new county commissioner this year, they will be choosing between candidates from very different political backgrounds.
The race pits Billy Traylor, a Republican who spent more than two decades as a county commissioner in the 1990s and early 2000s, against political newcomer and Democrat Michael Riley.
The election’s winner will represent one of the county’s most diverse districts, spanning from Wewahitchka to Beacon Hill. Both Traylor and Riley are lifelong Wewahitchka residents.
The seat is currently held by Commissioner Ward McDaniel, who sought reelection but was narrowly defeated by Traylor in the Republican primary earlier this year, with only 11 votes separating the two.
Traylor could not be reached in time for publication of this article.
Michael Riley wants to break into local politics
Riley said he has always thought he would run for office one day, when he had the time.
He lost his job at the WestRock Paper Mill in Panama City earlier this year when the facility shuttered its doors. But maybe, he said, that had been a blessing in disguise, because it freed up the time he needed to campaign for office.
Riley is running as a Democrat in a district that has been a conservative stronghold for decades, but he said his campaign has less to do with his political ideology than his stances on local issues.
Among those he considered to be his top priorities were bringing in new employment opportunities on the county’s north end. He also mentioned that the Wewahitchka area was in need of affordable housing, and that efforts seemed to be concentrated towards the county’s south end.
“People here feel like everything’s been taken from them and given to Port St. Joe,” he said.
Riley also stated that his goal would be to tackle what he described as a growing drug use problem in the county by bringing in resources and organizations that could aid with treatment and recovery.
“It’s a medical issue,” he said. “And the county has not shown enough effort to try to get a facility here.”
These are issues he said are of great importance to the Wewahitchka community, where he has spent the majority of his campaign efforts going door to door to listen to citizens’ concerns.
But when it comes to the southern end of District 2, Riley said he admitted to being a little out of touch.
Constituents in the Beacon Hill area have criticized Riley for being difficult to reach during his campaign for office, and Riley admitted that he had not yet been door to door in that part of the district.
While he stated that he is committed to listening to Beacon Hill constituents, he felt that this represented one of the larger challenges he would face in representing the district.
“I’m just not very familiar with that area down there and their needs,” he said. “So that will be a challenge for me.”
Billy Traylor wants his chair back
Traylor had served as the county commissioner for District 2 for 21 years when he lost the Republican primary for the seat to Tom Semmes in 2010. Now, more than a decade since he was in office, he wants to take another stab at it.
Traylor’s experience in the role has been central to his campaign.
His red and blue signs proudly read “Re-elect Billy Traylor, County Commission.”
The campaign has also featured frequent updates about his health, as Traylor undergoes treatments for brain cancer.
A malignant tumor was surgically removed from his frontal lobe in mid-July, followed by what he said in a Facebook post would be three weeks of treatments.
Despite his medical difficulties, Traylor has been committed to continuing door-to-door campaigning so that he might hear from the citizens he wants to represent.
Following his July surgery, he posted a statement to Facebook stating that “if I have missed seeing you, I look forward to continuing my door to door campaign in three weeks.”
While Traylor did not respond to multiple interview requests, The Star frequently reported on his actions during his previous terms as county commissioner.
The paper’s previous reporting emphasized Traylor’s fiscal accountability and his frequent efforts taken to ensure taxes were not raised for constituents.
Traylor came under fire for dealings with BP following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and leak in 2010. The board had voted to hire a law firm with an eye toward litigation against BP, but a week later the board reversed course and rescinded the agreement. During the interim, Traylor went to work for BP.
The former commissioner also faced criticism for his opposition to county-wide voting, which had wide popular appeal at the time, in favor of the single-member districts still seen in Gulf County today.
How to vote
Early voting for the 2022 general election ends on Saturday, November 5.
For election day, November 8, voters can look up which precinct they belong to on the supervisor of elections’ website. For early voting, voters may go to the early voting location closest to them.
Those who are not yet registered to vote will not be able to vote in the election.
In order to vote at any precinct, voters must produce one of the following current and valid picture identifications:
- Florida Driver’s License
- Florida ID card issued by the Dept. of Highway safety & Motor Vehicles
- United States Passport
- Debit or Credit Card
- Military Identification
- Student Identification
- Retirement Center Identification
- Neighborhood Association Identification
- Public Assistance Identification
If the picture identification does not contain a signature, an additional identification with a signature will be required. It is not mandatory that you bring your Voter’s Information Card with you to vote. This card is intended only to inform you that you are a registered voter, what district races you are able to vote on, what precinct you are registered in and the location of your polling place.