On Tuesday, January 22, the Network of Entrepreneurs & Business Advocates (NEBA) welcomed Florida State Senator Bill Montford as 2019’s first guest-speaker. Though nearing the end of his term limit (2020), Sen. Montford brought a fierce focus to the issues pressing our area while at the same time providing his familiar, appropriate humor.
Sen. Montford’s words focused on bettering the rural counties of northwest Florida, education, and the environment. Throughout his comments, Sen. Montford – though a democrat – affirmed the DeSantis gubernatorial era as one sparked with promise.
As part of his concerns for the rural areas of Florida, Sen. Montford cited a state chamber study and stated, “Even before Hurricane Michael, the thirty rural counties of Florida had fewer jobs than they did five years ago.” In his words, this means “among the jobs coming to north Florida, they aren’t coming to the rural areas.”
Of course, Hurricane Michael has exacerbated the struggles of rural Florida, but Sen. Montford gave a better idea of how much. A pressing concern is clearing fallen debris that can become a fire hazard. Unfortunately, Sen. Montford said this may cost $1 billion.
Further, Sen. Montford stated, “The amount of debris from Hurricane Michael is more than the combined debris from all storms of the last 11 years.” But without a uniform re-forestation plan in place, Montford said, “We [state legislature] don’t know exactly what to do.”
Concerning public education, especially school choice, Sen. Montford offered a balanced solution. He first asked, “Who can argue with parental choice?” But he later pointed out that because the state only pays 40% of transportation costs, some parents are left without a choice. Sen. Montford summarized his solution by saying, “If we believe in choice, and we do. . . . We have to make sure every child, every parent has an equal opportunity for all the options that are out there.”
When asked about the recent appointment of Richard Corcoran to Education Commissioner, Sen. Montford said, “He is hopeful and optimistic that he will speak for all schools, traditional and public. My position is that he gets things done.”
Sen. Montford stressed that he wishes to “make sure he [Corcoran] knows all of what we know, those of us who are familiar with schools.” He closed comments on Corcoran’s appointment, saying: “I am confident that he will take that into consideration, and let’s give him a chance.”
Sen. Montford centered his comments on Florida’s environment around fracking. Sen. Montford, who recently presented a bill against fracking in Florida, called fracking “the most sensitive issue we will be addressing.”
When asked about the chances of his bill passing, Sen. Montford gave credit to Governor DeSantis, saying, “To the governor’s credit, he has spoken out about environmental issues, his wife has as well.” Sen. Montford believes that fracking’s risk to Florida’s groundwater makes evident: “Florida should be the last state to engage in fracking.”
When asked about Governor DeSantis’s actions so far, Sen. Montford said he is “on the right track,” especially as it concerns the environment and rolling back some of the previous governor’s initiatives.
Although he said he’s always wanted to be a mayor (addressing the rumor that he wishes to return to Blounstown and become mayor), one thing is clear: the work for our area is far from over. Nonetheless, when he is not working, Sen. Montford said his favorite thing to do for fun is play with his grandkids because, in his own words, “that is all I have time for.”