Last Updated: Sunday, 7:09 p.m.
There was so much good will and harmony among candidates and their supporters on this first day of early voting at the public library on Palm Coast Parkway that Sims Jones, a Democratic candidate for City Council, led a prayer with Republicans, including one of his opponents, Theresa Pontieri, before the day’s campaigning began.
Then Joseph Mullins showed up.
Mullins is the embattled county commissioner who’s been shadowed by controversy before his first election four years ago. A little after 10 this morning–the library is one of four early voting sites that opened polling at 10 a.m.–he aggressively approached the Flagler County Republican Club’s tent and demanded to have his campaign literature included there.
Linda Hansen, who was under the tent, volunteering for her husband Greg Hansen’s re-election campaign, told Mullins that since he wasn’t a member of the club, he couldn’t have his campaign literature there. A verbal altercation ensued, with Mullins getting very angry very quickly, according to Linda Hansen and three other witnesses, to the point that Leann Pennington, the Republican facing Mullins in the primary, called the sheriff’s office. She was in the tent a few feet away from the club’s.
“It was pretty ugly. I don’t want to talk about it, but it was pretty ugly,” Greg Hansen said. ““He was just being a jerk. It’s just joe being Joe.” Hansen was twice at the receiving end of Mullins’s anger and demeaning insults in 2020, once during a commission meeting, and again days later at a 9/11 commemoration. Hansen and then-Commissioner Charlie Ericksen, who had also been the subject of Mullins’s abuse, attempted to formally censure him. But Mullins’s allies on the commission, Dave Sullivan and Donald O’Brien, refused.
Linda Hansen had just voted, and had noticed Mullins behind her, somehow “building up an attitude.” As soon as she saw him, “the way he strutted over here,” she sensed something was up and told her daughter Regan Hansen and another volunteer to leave immediately.
Jones was in the tent immediately adjacent to the Republican Club’s, weith nothing obstructing the two. He was between 7 to 9 feet from Hansen.
“Mullins came by acting like a jerk and he tried to tell one of the other Republican tents about putting stuff on their table,” Jones said. (Jones was initially interviewed by phone, and later in person.) “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He started to look indignant. I’m going to be honest with you, he looked like he was going to hit that woman, and if he was, I was going to jump all over him. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He was just out of control. Like I say, he just came over here, said I can put stuff over here, I spoke with Bob, I can put stuff on the table.” Bob Updegrave chairs the Republican Executive Committee in Flagler. “All the woman said was you’re not a member, you can’t put stuff on the table, and he went ballistic. I don’t know what his problem is. He just went from zero to ten, and it didn’t make any kind of sense, no sense at all.”
Hansen, Jones said, did not respond with the same kind of anger but was firm. “The only thing she said to him was, you can’t do it, and told this young man who I guess works for him, get the camera out of my face.” Jaiden Chavez, a 16-year-old volunteer who was in what some candidates or volunteers referred to as Alan Lowe’s tent next to the Democratic Party’s, had taken video of the incident and kept taking pictures of the Hansens later, Linda Hansen said. (Lowe, who said he did not witness the incident, said it wasn’t his tent but that it was “under the control of conservative headquarters.”)
Asked whether he had a statement about the incident, Mullins said in a text: “Get the video from Jaiden. I don’t know what occurred other than I told them to not attack a 16 year old it’s all on video.” (Asked about the video at the library, Chavez said he would send the video to FlaglerLive, only to later text that he would not do so “at this time.”)
“It was just very very, loud, extreme, raging kind of noise. It was bad,” Pennington said. “I just could hear it enough to know that I should call.” She kept her distance and called the Sheriff’s Office’s non-emergency line. She described the incident as “very long and very bad,” later specifying that it stretched over five minutes. “He said he was going to put it on the radio, was going to get lawyers involved.” (Mullins buys a half-hour commercial on WNZF every Saturday and declaims on various subjects, often using the time to answer or attack his critics.)
The call to the Sheriff’s Office came in at 10:23 a.m. Dispatchers referred to it as “just verbal at this time.” Sheriff’s deputies showed up at the scene and determined that nothing physical took place, nor were any threats made. Mullins, witnesses said, quickly left when word came that police were on their way. Chavez told deputies he would send them the video. A request for the video through the Sheriff’s Office was pending until Sunday, when a sheriff’s spokesperson said the copy “was never sent to us.”
In a text, Chavez wrote: “Me and Ms Hansen had some confusion on where to put signs. Bob Updegrave resolved it. No other issues.”
Linda Hansen, interviewed in person as she was still under the tent early this afternoon, described the situation in much the same terms. “He and I are oil and water. He has threatened me for four years,” she said. If Mullins reared back aggressively as if to strike, as Jones claims, she said she did not see it. She had turned her back just then, to take her seat. Jones told her about it later.
She confirmed that she told Mullins he could not put his campaign materials under the tent, but that he was aggressive and “a bully” (he never stepped into the tent, remaining on the sidewalk portion where, he said accurately, in words Hansen relayed, “I have the right to stand here”). But Hansen told him to step away if he was going to be ugly about the issue, and to discuss the matter with Updegrave, who would resolve it.
“Everybody on both sides said you handled it beautifully,” Hansen said. “There were lots of witnesses.” Hansen said Mullins had been told by Updegrave that he could have his campaign material under the tent. “He said he’s on his way over and I said that’s fine. We’ll let Bob decide.”
Updegrave, in a phone interview, did his best to downplay the matter. “At this time all is well. Were doing well, and engaging voters properly, courteously,” he said in early afternoon, clearly not interested in discussing the incident. Asked about Mullins’s interaction with Hansen specifically, Updegrave said: “There was an earlier misunderstanding that’s been cleared up, everything is taken care of, everything is running smoothly there.” He added: “I wasn’t there, so I really shouldn’t comment, whatever the issue or issues, things are resolved.” He said the misunderstanding was about the campaign material–which Mullins was allowed to have under the tent.
Updegrave had, in fact, gone to the library location after the incident and spoken with the Hansens. But after hearing their accounts, he told Linda Hansen that Mullins, because of his behavior, had forfeited the right to have his literature under the club’s tent.
And in fact an examination of the tent early this afternoon revealed no signs of Mullins literature or signs.
No signs of Mullins, either. And no signs of discord. To the contrary. Jones, a jovial man by nature who sat under the Democratic tent, and a cap that said “Jesus is my boss,” was laughing with Hansen about the otherwise cordial nature of the day, and the fun they’d all been having.
“We were having a grand old time, we’ve been one happy family, on both sides,” Jones said.
“It’s really kind of fun to sit out here this time, kind of a community spirit,” Hansen said, “which has been missing.” Of Mullins, she said, “It got a little bit out of hand, but he moved, he left. Like Sims said, he went from zero to 95.” It’s not clear if Hansen, who knows her way around sarcasm, was also making an allusion to Mullins’s two recent run-ins with Florida Highway Patrol troopers in separate speeding incidents, when he was threatened with jail in one, and told the troper in the other that “I run the county.” In both speeding incidents he’d been clocked at over 90 mph.
The early voting locations were mostly underwhelmed today. With less than three hours left on the day’s voting clock, barely 600 voters had cast a ballot at the four combined locations, bringing the total turnout so far, with mailed-in ballots, to 11 percent. Mid-term elections generally draw about 28 to 30 percent of registered voters.
Update: Late Saturday night a commenter posted on FlaglerLive’s Facebook page an 80-second video clip from the altercation, though it’s not clear at what point during the altercation the video clip begins. It begins with someone saying “gentlemen, gentlemen,” as if to calm the situation, suggesting that it had been ongoing. Linda Hansen is telling Mullins to “please leave,” and that “Bob [Updegrave] will settle it,” and Mullins is disputing Hansen telling him to move away from a public place. She then steps away from her chair to demand that the filming be stopped. The person filming could have stopped as a courtesy to Hansen, but in that location, being a public space, neither filming nor recording would be in breach of law, or others’ rights, even if they ask not to be filmed. The decontextualized video clip appears below as it appeared in the comment section on Facebook.
On Sunday, the Sheriff’s Office released five bodycam videos from its deputies’ response, but not the full video taken by Chavez. One of the deputies is seen and heard in one of the body cams telling her supervisor: “I watched the whole video, it’s just them bickering back and forth.” (The phone playing the video is out of the bodycam’s angle when the deputy watches the video doesn’t actually show the video.) One of the clips is below.