By DOTTY NIST
“I am so honored to have represented you in Walton County,” Marti Coley told members of Walton Republican Women Federated (WRWF) and their guests.
Coley (R-Marianna), Florida House representative for District 5, addressed the club at its June 18 monthly meeting at Cuvee Catering in Miramar Beach.
Due to term limits, Coley is completing her final term as representative. She was first elected to the House in June 2005. Prior to redistricting, her district included south Walton County but did not extend north of the bay. For the past two years, she has represented all of Walton County, along with Holmes, Jackson, and Washington counties and part of Bay County.
Coley told attendees that this budget year had been a contrast with the past few years during which the state had faced financial challenges. This year there was a budget surplus, she noted.
Speaking of the budget approved by the legislature and recently signed by Governor Rick Scott, Coley was proud to relate that the state had taken the conservative approach of putting $3 billion in reserves.
A $77 billion budget was passed, she continued. “It was the largest education budget in Florida’s history,” she revealed, “so I was very pleased to be part of that.”
Coley was also happy to report that fees for licenses and tags had been rolled back as part of the state’s 2014-15 fiscal year budget. She told the group that she had probably “heard from” her Walton County constituents more than any others about car tag and license fees after the legislature had raised those fees five years ago.
Not only were fees reduced in the new budget, but overall there were $500 million in tax cuts, Coley emphasized.
She told the group that, after a number of years of the state having to say “we don’t have it” when it came to many projects, even those that would bring jobs, she had been pleased to see water and sewer projects proposed for northwest Florida remain in the finalized budget this year.
Coley observed that Governor Scott is “all about jobs.”
Walton County is to benefit from $4.4 million in the budget signed by Governor Scott for construction of a wastewater treatment facility at Mossy Head Industrial Park. In addition, $2 million is to provide for the connection of Freeport and DeFuniak Springs water systems and the addition of 50,000 feet of water mains in Freeport.
Coley said legislators had fought hard to keep $750,000 in the state budget for the Walton County Fair Association and had been successful. Those funds are to be used for badly needed replacement and repair of buildings.
“Seeing this crowd is exciting…,” Coley said, looking out over the well-occupied room, “because there is a complacency around the state and this country.” She emphasized the importance of citizens getting out to vote.
She segued that remark into a discussion of a vote that she took in the legislature with which some of her Walton County constituents had expressed disapproval. The vote had been in favor of a bill containing one controversial portion that would allow some students in the U.S. illegally to qualify for in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges. Coley noted that the legislation stated that these students would not have been able to take spots at the colleges that could be filled by other state residents.
Coley acknowledged the severity of the county’s immigration problem and said that she did not have the solution. “We’ve been faced with a cycle of poverty, and education seems to be the way forward,” she said in reference to her vote. “We need to break the cycle of poverty,” she said, adding that she stood by her vote.
The bill, aimed at lowering tuition for Florida college students collectively, was approved in both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Scott on June 9.
Coley expressed appreciation to her Walton County constituents who had been in contact with her over the years, whether in support or opposition to her actions.
“It has been an incredible journey,” she said of her time in the legislature.
In response to a question, Coley, a teacher, said she would be continuing with her job at Chipola College, at which she has served for more than 15 years. She did not rule out future public service—and in fact said she had considered seeking a seat in the Florida Senate but had opted not to do so at this time. She said she currently had no plans to run for office.
Present at the meeting were a number of candidates for political office. These included candidates for the seat being vacated by Coley, Brad Drake and Jan Hooks. Also present were Walton County District 2 candidates Cecilia Jones and Danny Glidewell, Walton County School Board District 2 candidate Faye Leddon (the incumbent), Walton County School Board District 3 candidate Sharon Byrd Roberts (the incumbent), and South Walton Mosquito Control District Seat 3 candidate Sharron Mattison. Incumbent Walton County Supervisor of Elections Bobby Beasley, who is running unopposed, was in attendance as well. The group heard brief presentations from some of these candidates.
At next month’s WRWF meeting, the topic of whether the county should go to an appointed rather than an elected school superintendent will be addressed, with speakers to present both sides of the issue. The question is to be put to Walton County voters as part of the Aug. 26 primary. The WRWF meeting on the topic is scheduled for July 16.
By DOTTY NIST