Matt Willhite to forgo final House term, seek Palm Beach County Commission seat

Willhite hopes to succeed District 6 Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who is facing term limits.

Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite plans to step away from the House after three terms and mount a bid for the Palm Beach County Commission.

Willhite will make the announcement at a Friday afternoon event with the Palm Beach County Firefighters and Paramedics. That group is planning to endorse Willhite in his County Commission bid, as he seeks to replace Commissioner Melissa McKinlay in District 6. McKinlay is barred from running for a third term because of term limits.

Willhite will focus on his legislative record in declaring his bid Friday, according to a statement obtained early by Florida Politics.

“I’m thrilled to announce that I’m running for Palm Beach County Commissioner to continue my lifelong service to our community,” Willhite plans to say.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as state Representative since 2016, where we made monumental strides in protecting our small businesses, seniors, and public schools and supported our law enforcement officers and first responders by passing crucial legislation extending PTSD treatment.”

Scott Bielecky, President of the Palm Beach County Firefighters and Paramedics, will also voice his support for Willhite’s run for county government.

“Matt Willhite embodies the good in public service and we are excited to offer our early support for his campaign for Palm Beach County Commissioner. This past year has shown how first responders confronted the global pandemic head on and provided critical aid and service to our community and we are eager to support leaders like Matt Willhite who know firsthand the important work we do for our residents.”

Willhite is an experienced firefighter who backed a 2019 law requiring firefighters’ health plans to cover out-of-pocket expenses for cancer treatments. In 2020, Willhite sponsored legislation allowing pharmacies to dispense medication via kiosks. He has continued to push health and safety measures during this year’s Legislative Session.

With three terms in the House and a bipartisan record to tout, Willhite will likely be the favorite in the District 6 contest. So far, only Sylvia L. Sharps has filed for the seat. Despite declaring in early 2019, Sharps has raised less than $4,000.

Willhite represents House District 86, which covers parts of Palm Beach County including Wellington, Royal Palm Beach and Loxahatchee Groves. He plans to remain in that role through the 2022 Legislative Session before concentrating on the Palm Beach County Commission race.

“I’ve been firm in my commitment to service, mutual respect, and compromise,” Willhite added in the statement previewed by Florida Politics.

“I believe that my dedication to our community, decades of service, and collaborative approach will be essential in delivering results through the Palm Beach County Commission. I look forward to working with our community to build a stronger Palm Beach County.”

Willhite is currently the only Democrat who had filed paperwork to run for HD 86 in 2022. He’ll have to forfeit that bid in order to seek office in Palm Beach County.

Michelle Oyala McGovern is also rumored to run for McKinlay’s Commission seat. She has nearly two decades experience in various roles with former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. She served more than a decade as Nelson’s regional director in West Palm Beach before serving as his state director.

Republican candidate Susan Kufdakis Rivera is the only other candidate filed in the HD 86 contest so far. She ran against Willhite in the 2020 General Election. Though she lost by double digits, she did cut 3 percentage points off Willhite’s vote share from 2018. Still, the district leans Democratic.

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