Decorated Afghanistan war veteran Brian Mast and attorney Rick Kozell, both Republicans, are entering the crowded race for the Palm Beach County-Treasure Coast District 18 congressional seat that Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is leaving to run for Senate.
Mast is a retired U.S. Army bomb technician who had both legs amputated after being injured by an IED in Afghanistan. Kozell is the former president of the Republican Club of the Palm Beaches who left the area last year to take a job in Washington as counsel to a judge on the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
They enter a race for a nationally watched swing district that already has drawn three Republicans (former state Rep. and 2014 nominee Carl Domino, Martin County School Board member Rebecca Negron and St. Lucie County Commissioner Tod Mowery) and three Democrats (Palm Beach County Commissioners Priscilla Taylor and Melissa McKinlay and retired engineer John Xuna).
Other Republicans looking at the race include former Secret Service agent and Maryland congressional candidate Dan Bongino and Arkansas-based fundraiser and pundit Noelle Nikpour, both of whom are moving to Florida.
Mast, 34, joined the Army Reserves in 2000 while at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach. He went on active duty in 2007 and became a bomb technician, working on about 35 Special Operations missions before he was injured in September 2010 by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. He spent more than 16 months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and was awarded the Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal for Valor, Purple Heart and Defense Meritorious Service medals.
During his recovery at Walter Reed, Mast and his wife were guests of Vice President Joe Biden for Thanksgiving dinner and joined First Lady Michelle Obama for President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address.
“Whether you are in a combat zone, or trying to find a job or a better life for your family—there is plenty of adversity out there that must be overcome— our government should be working to remove barriers to opportunity, not create them,” Mast said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “The adversity I have faced in my life has only intensified my desire to serve and to ensure that the people of our great nation have every opportunity to rise as far as their talent and hard work will take them.”
Kozell, 33, grew up in Jupiter. While pursuing a Georgetown University law degree, he worked as a law clerk for Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee and for Sens. George LeMieux and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
After working as a business lawyer in West Palm Beach and heading a local Republican club, he went to work as legal counsel for the Republican member of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, which is an independent federal agency that provides administrative trial and appellate review of OSHA investigations. There, he said he “fought the Obama Administration’s attempts to increase the reach of government into our local communities and small businesses.”
In his announcement statement, Kozell said he’s running because “working people are struggling while big government in Washington is thriving. We need a Congressman who will fight to promote greater opportunities for hardworking Floridians and to create a healthy economy for everyone. As a former small business owner, I have seen first-hand that a rising tide of prosperity can lift all ships. I have been blessed to be the beneficiary of the American Dream and it is time we restore that Dream for everyone.”