JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With four weeks to Florida’s primary election, Action News Jax investigated a local politician’s background and found some questionable claims.
Jacksonville Beach City Councilman Chet Stokes is running to represent the Beaches and parts of Duval County in the Florida State House.
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“He’ll defend the Constitution,” said a Stokes commercial that adds he will “never compromise our shared values.” But, we have a few questions about those shared values.
Action News Jax’s Ben Becker caught up with Stokes at a Jacksonville Beach City Council meeting Monday, after Stokes declined a previous interview request.
When Becker started asking questions, Stokes replied, “This is not on the record.” Becker replied, “Well, we are in a public building.” Then Stokes said, “Excuse me.”
In an Action News Jax investigation, Becker discovered a diploma dilemma in Stokes’ educational background so we questioned whether he deliberately stretched the truth.
The Stokes State House campaign website, his work bio, Jacksonville Beach campaign bio and even the Episcopal school magazine — the high school he attended — all say Stokes graduated college from Auburn University in Alabama.
Becker obtained a DegreeVerify certificate issued by the National Students Clearinghouse that shows Eugene Chester Stokes — his legal name — attended Auburn University from August 2009 to April 2014, but under the degree title, it reads “enrollment only.”
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Becker emailed Auburn University and the Office of the Registrar, which confirmed the dates. They added, “He did not graduate from Auburn.”
Stokes had come in like a tiger but was now leaving on the lamb as he headed to the parking lot to get away from Becker who was in pursuit.
“One’s an accident, two is a trend and three is a problem. What do you call four?” asked Becker, as Stokes quickly left the city council meeting without answering the question.
Stokes’ campaign website now reads “attended Auburn University” and his bio has been scrubbed off his work website.
That is not the only arresting development.
Becker got his hands on an active arrest warrant for Stokes from Maricopa County, Arizona that was issued in 2011 — after Stokes no-showed two arraignments for possession of alcohol by a minor.
“When were you going to tell voters about the arrest warrant?” Becker asked Stokes. Again, he refused to answer.
“Should all this matter to voters?” Becker asked University of North Florida political science professor Michael Binder. “The short answer is, yeah,” said Binder, who believes voters want to know who candidates are as people.
“Are you willing to say, ‘I’ve learned this much and I don’t like it and I’m going to vote for somebody else’ or ‘well, what I’ve seen of him I like of him; this concerns me but not enough to make me change my vote again?’ That’s up to the individual voter to make that call.”
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Stokes’ closest Republican competitor is former Rep. Lake Ray, who sent Becker this statement:
“Right now, confidence in public officials is at an all-time low because of politicians like Chet Stokes who are physically incapable of telling the truth. His blatant and repeated lies about his college credentials and criminal history are shocking but not surprising. Chet Stokes should do the right thing for the voters of House District 16 and withdraw from this race.”
Becker continued to pursue comments from Stokes as he headed to his truck. Stokes called someone on his campaign team and said, “Ben Becker is ambushing me right now outside City Hall.” Becker asked, “You know you would be arrested if you went to Arizona and got pulled over, right?” Stokes replied, “I don’t know that, no sir.” Becker responded, “Well, there’s an arrest warrant for you.”
Stokes slammed the truck door shut and left.
Stokes did send Becker text messages saying he is staying in the race and apologized about the graduation information on the campaign website, calling it a mistake and an oversight. Stokes never addressed the other websites or the warrant for his arrest.
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