There is an election in Destin in less than three weeks, and it is unlike any election we have ever had. There has already been 40 percent more money spent than in the five previous elections combined.
A PAC formed by developers has spent the huge majority of the money and much of the funds have been used in a searing attack on several candidates. There are even Russian overtones to this campaign. A website, DestinLiberals.com, was formed by Destin Conservatives—a registered PAC with an address in Venice, Florida.
There are fake websites, vicious attacks, and lots of money being spent in the place once known as The Luckiest Fishing Village in the World.
I do not know two of the candidates being supported by Destin Conservatives for city council seats, and I’ve lived here for 41 years. But I do know one of the candidates who is being attacked. I thought I’d ask him what this election was like.
Disclaimer: I’ve known Rodney Braden since 1977. I knew his grandfather Jim, who operated a fleet of charter boats many years ago. Mr. Braden introduced monofilament fishing line in Destin in the 1960s.
Rodney’s father was Drummond Braden. My first job was on the Bimini, an old wooden charter boat with a single engine. Drummond gave me that job shortly after I received my captain’s license in 1977.
Rodney is 51 years old now. I’ve known him since he was a little dock rat, scurrying along his family’s charter docks.
He has a family now.
You’re surrounded by women in your family?
Rodney Braden: Yes. My wife, Jamie, and I have three daughters. Terra works at Destin Water Users, and Riley and Kasidy are still in school.
Why do you serve on the city council?
To serve on the city council, you have to love your community and be a voice for the citizens. It’s a volunteer job— there’s no pay—and having all these attacks doesn’t hurt my feelings. But it angers me that a handful of people would do that. I don’t want a few people having control over the city. And I think the people of Destin see what’s going on.
What’s your position on growth in Destin?
I’ve always been for growth. But I’d like to see quality, responsible growth and redevelopment, not just more giant condominiums. I think some of the developers see me standing in their way. I’d like to see quality growth that would bring back the demographics we used to have. Bring money back to Destin instead of sending it east to 30A.
The biggest challenge we face is completing the Land Development Code. The community has become so divided over it—we need to pull people back together. People worry about this ordinance or that ordinance—those can all be changed.
But a giant condominium can’t be changed—once it’s here, it’s here forever.
Some of the mailings sent out attack you as being a liberal. I thought I was the only liberal in town.
No offense, but I was more angered at being called a liberal than all the other things they had to say about me.
Not much of a payday being a city councilman is it?
Serving on the city council is a volunteer job. There’s no pay or special dividends. And it’s pretty much thankless. But I’ve been here for 51 years, and I love this community. I’ll keep serving as long as the voters keep electing me.
It should be obvious—I like Rodney Braden. It should also be obvious, regardless of whom you end up voting for in this election, that our city government is in danger of being purchased.
There are some things in this world that should not be for sale. There are some things that shouldn’t have a price tag on them. The city of Destin should not be up for bid like an item at auction. And there are people—people who volunteer their time to govern a city— who should be off-limits to political and personal attacks.