By Wes Wolfe, Florida Politics
A new website went live recently detailing Nassau County Commissioner Aaron Bell’s arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence in June. Everything on the site is public record, available through the Nassau County Clerk of Court. However, Bell avoided such a direct attack on himself in his District 2 re-election campaign up to this point.
The site, aaronbelldui.com, loads with dramatic text offset by Bell’s DUI mugshot, in which he’s smiling. It was registered with GoDaddy on Aug. 9.
The site has his name in large tan letters and reads in all caps, “Arrested for DUI: June. County Commission Candidate: August. Unfit: Everyday.” It has embedded in it bodycam footage from the arresting Fernandina Police officer, along with the redacted incident report and some local news stories. Text on the bottom of the page reads, in all caps, “Bad judgment. Unfit to serve. Aaron Bell cannot be trusted in the streets or in leadership.”
Voters Response is the responsible party for the website. The group is one of many pseudo-anonymous organizations with a South Monroe Street, Tallahassee address. Its last contribution was October 2020 and its last expenditure was November 2020, until it received $7,000 from Voters for Economic Growth on Aug. 1. Voters Response turned around and spent $4,500 with Power Strategies of Tallahassee and nearly $2,250 with Top Lobster LLC of Bradenton the same day.
Voters for Economic Growth’s only contribution since Bell’s arrest June 21 was $80,000 from Florida Opinion Leaders, a Chamber of Commerce-related political committee, on July 22. The last contribution before that was $58,000 from Citizens for Principled Leadership on June 14. Citizens for Principled Leadership had two large contributions before they gave their own — $101,250 from the Conservative Leadership Committee, which doesn’t seem to be in the Florida Secretary of State’s committee database, and $20,000 from the Committee for Justice, Transportation and Business, another chamber-related committee.
Bell resigned his chairmanship of the Board of County Commissioners at its next meeting after his arrest.
“As I’m sure you’re all aware, last week I was accused of operating my personal vehicle while under the influence, and I went through the arrest and booking process for those accusations,” Bell said at the outset of the meeting.
“I will be responding to those claims completely through the legal process. 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.”
Navy veteran and locally known entertainer Hupp Huppmann drew a distinction with Bell’s combative posture toward development when he launched his own campaign for the open Republican primary in County Commission District 2.
Huppmann is 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.