Some of the headlines coming out of Florida this past week are mind-blowing to those who live in the Augusta area and are familiar with Joe Mullins, the former candidate for Georgia’s House District 122 seat.
“Two-term Flagler incumbent ousted by Georgia transplant,” the Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote last week.
The use of the word “transplant” when referring to Mullins is the only thing that is humorous in that headline.
Mullins won the Republican primary in Flagler County last week.
Now, that’s scary.
“Palm Coast business owner Joe Mullins, an unsuccessful candidate for the Georgia House of Representatives, dashed Flagler County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin’s hopes for a third term,” the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported last week. “Mullins collected about 57 percent of the vote to unseat the incumbent in the Republican primary.”
The 48-year-old Mullins apparently won over Floridians by campaigning on a platform of job growth, and he reportedly used a whopping $78,600 to outspend his opponent.
“If you’re going to have a victory, they always say you’ve got to beat the man, and Nate (McLaughlin) was the man,” Mullins reportedly told the Daytona Beach paper.
Frankly, it’s shocking Mullins won.
Over the past several months, the Palm Coast Observer did several fact-checking stories into Mullins’ claims on the campaign trail and his past here in Georgia.
The Palm Coast newspaper even followed up on stories written in 2015 by both the Metro Spirit and the Augusta Chronicle.
“After the November 2015 election in Georgia, Joe Mullins took a trip to Las Vegas to unwind. On the plane ride there, he began a conversation via texts and Facebook messages with a 25-year-old Georgia woman named Madeline Rogers, whom he had seen while she was working at Twin Peaks, an establishment similar to a Hooters Restaurant,” the Palm Coast Observer reported. “The Metro Spirit, an alternative weekly in Augusta, Georgia, interviewed Rogers a few days later, and she shared dozens of texts that Mullins had sent to her, including invitations to join him in Las Vegas and requests to send him pictures of herself in the shower.”
Of course, when the Metro Spirit asked Mullins about the texts in 2015, he denied sending them.
However, Mullins had a different response regarding those same texts during his interview with the Palm Coast Observer.
“The texts were from me, but they were not complete sentences,” Mullins reportedly told the Florida paper. “They were manipulated, chopped off, or certain parts were omitted. I don’t know that any of the streams even occurred. I didn’t read (the Metro Spirit’s story). I didn’t look at it.”
The texts were definitely not manipulated or omitted. The Metro Spirit stands behind that facts presented in the 2015 article.
But beyond the scandal of Mullins — a married man, who was flirting with a woman half his age — Mullins’ residency was also in question here in Georgia before the 2015 election.
Then-Columbia County News-Times Publisher Steve Crawford did an excellent story in 2015 looking into where Mullins actually resided.
When pressed on the issue, Mullins’ answers were confusing, to say the least.
“I’ve lived in California and I’ve got a place in North Carolina and a place in Tennessee and one in Arizona, but my residency has always been here in Columbia County,” Mullins told Crawford in 2015. “I’ve only got one driver’s license. At any given time, I only have one driver’s license in my pocket.”
But it didn’t take long for Crawford to discover that was not quite true.
The News-Times found out Mullins might have actually held valid driver’s licenses in three different states: Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.
Mullins tried to brush off the accusations that he did not meet the state’s residency standards to run in the Georgia election by saying, while he lived in Florida and North Carolina, he still maintained a primary address in Columbia County.
“It is something that is probably a little confusing to most people because having multiple residences and traveling like I did, but I just traveled a lot throughout the country and doing the work I did with the entertainment business we were all over at any given time,” Mullins told Crawford. “So you just establish your residency where you are.”
The Palm Coast Observer reviewed Crawford’s story and also questioned Mullins about the confusion over his residency.
“That’s not true. Never had more than one driver’s license,” Mullins told the Florida newspaper. “A driver’s license doesn’t determine your residency. You can have a driver’s license in a different state.”
Mullins explained how one could end up with two licenses: “If I go to North Carolina today, and I try to get another driver’s license, my driver’s license will pull up with my Social Security number. And it’s their responsibility to invalidate that other driver’s license.”
Even though the Palm Coast Observer continued to point out the confusion over his licenses, Mullins insisted that his residency was not an issue for the Georgia election because, if it had been, “I wouldn’t have gotten on the ballot.”
Earlier this year, the Palm Coast newspaper discovered concerns of its own about Mullins in Florida.
“Mullins asked family members and one of his employees to donate to his campaign in exchange for immediately reimbursing them for an amount identical to their donation, according to a former Mullins employee,” the newspaper reported earlier this year. “The employee, 47-year-old Heather Buchanan, provided the Palm Coast Observer with a photograph of checks from Mullins’ business account to people who are listed as campaign donors, including herself, in amounts that equal the reported donations. If true, Mullins’ actions could be a violation of Florida’s campaign finance laws.”
And yet, despite all of these questions swirling around Mullins, Florida voters in Flagler County still elected Mullins in the Republican primary last week.
Now, it’s not officially over yet. Mullins still has to face a no-party affiliate candidate in the Nov. 6 general election.
But, let’s get real.
Mullins has basically won his seat on the county commission in Florida.
It’s a frightening thought because the real losers in that election are the citizens of Flagler County.