Aaron Bell’s Nassau County Commission bid complicated by DUI charge

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Nassau County Commissioner Aaron Bell went into his re-election campaign with momentum. He stuck his neck out on opposing the Riverstone Properties 85-foot towers proposal, which opened up the county to likely continued Bert Harris Act litigation. 

“This is in my Commission district,” Bell said at the time. “I do understand the concerns of the folks who live here. I live there. I cannot and will not support the settlement, and my vote will be for option three, where the county tells Riverstone to pound sand and see you in court.”

The vote carried 3-2 and was the first salient issue of the campaign. Navy veteran and locally known entertainer Hupp Huppmann drew a distinction with Bell’s combative posture when he launched his own campaign for the open Republican Primary in County Commission District 2.

Huppmann’s a previous general manager of The Palace Saloon, owns and operates entertainment services company HUPP LLC, and was a part of the Foar From Home cross-ocean rowing effort raising money to combat veteran suicide.

District 2 covers the south end of Amelia Island and the southeast portion of the eastern mainland of Nassau County.

“I don’t believe for one second that combative and provocative slogans are going to solve any problems for the citizens of Nassau County,” Huppmann said when he launched his campaign.

“I trust that you all feel the same way. In fact, I’m going to take it one step further, and I’m going to repeat, good leaders know those kind of tactics serve to make things worse. Solutions are found when both sides of an issue come together, work together, and reach a mutually beneficial solution — it’s basically called the win-win. That’s how you get things done. That’s what we’re going to do.”

The Riverstone debate helped drive conversation on the race until Bell’s arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence in June. A hearing in the case was set for Aug. 18.

“I will be responding to those claims completely through the legal process,” Bell said at a County Commission meeting after his arrest.

“I feel that any discussion of this matter during the current meeting or other subsequent meetings, would only serve to distract from the important work of this Board. For this reason, effective immediately, I am abstaining from any further action as Chairman of both the Board of County Commissioners and the (Amelia Island) Tourist Development Council for the remainder of my term as Chairman.”

The intervention of an independent political action committee into the race, like its involvement in another County Commission campaign, led to a back-and-forth in public over who’s really backing which campaign and why. Huppmann is pursuing action with the Nassau County Supervisor of Elections regarding the controversy.

Huppman benefited from at least two positive mail pieces — one from the Nassau County firefighters union, and one from a local political committee.

In response, Bell spent more than $10,300 with Drummond Press of Jacksonville on July 25, so far the single biggest expenditure by either campaign. He also posted several videos online explaining his policy positions on development, gun rights and the county’s future. 

Huppmann later spent nearly $7,200 with The Whitson Group of Jacksonville for campaign advertising. As of the P6 reports, Bell has a little less than $13,900 left in the campaign account with more than $25,100 spent, and Huppmann shows around $7,400 on hand after spending more than $20,500 so far.

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