The wide-open race for Florida House of Representatives District 1, which covers most of Escambia County, features two Democrats and three Republicans. WUWF recently invited GOP candidate Rebekah Bydlak to discuss her bid for the seat.
As a ninth generation native of the community, Bydlak’s run for House District 1 is personal, as she notes with a bit of family trivia.
“The first meeting of the Florida Legislature was held in the home of my fifth great grandfather, Don Manuel Gonzalez,” said Bydlak, pointing out that her ancestor helped build the community of Gonzalez in the north end of the county, which of course makes up a big portion of the first state house district.
Bydlak currently serves as executive director of the non-profit Coalition to Reduce Spending.
Now 27 years old, she is making her second run for office. In 2016, she was one of seven Republicans to challenge for Northwest Florida’s open Congressional seat won by Matt Gaetz.
“You know, right after the primary (in 2016) that certainly wasn’t first on my mind,” Bydlak said of the fact that she was prepared to remain out of the political arena. “But, the fact is there’s a lot to do, especially at the state level; the decisions we make have a direct impact on people’s lives. And, the seat coming open with Ingram being term limited, it’s important to get the right kind of representation for my home town, and so I just decided to do it.”
In the past year of campaigning, Bydlak has raised $158,000 (through July 20), which is the most of any other candidate in the race.
She recently rolled out her first TV ad.
“Isn’t it time for a fresh conservative voice who will work with President Trump in Florida,” asks the narrator. “That’s Rebekah Bydlak, a conservative outsider, not a politician. Bydlak is 100 percent pro-life and is endorsed by the NRA (National Rifle Association) for defending the Second Amendment.”
Like primary rival Mike Hill, Bydlak wants to roll back some of the gun provisions in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.
But, with descriptors such as “fresh” and “outsider,” the campaign ad aims to distinguish Bydlak’s conservative candidacy from that of Hill, who served three years in the House before vacating the seat to run for state senate in 2016.
If elected, Bydlak, who has the support of Republican incumbent Clay Ingram, says her priority will be to represent what she calls “Panhandle values.”
“We’re a very conservative, small government-friendly area,” Bydlak proclaims. “People care about protecting life and cutting wasteful taxes and spending. And, they care about protecting our second amendment rights and that’s not always exactly in line with the rest of the state, certainly, and we’re a small area of the state and being able to be a strong voice for these values is incredibly, incredibly important.”
Also important to Bydlak is protecting the region itself as it undergoes rapid growth, particularly in the area around Navy Federal Credit Union. Specifically, she wants to ensure adequate infrastructure and public safety, as well as workforce training for newly created jobs.
Additionally, she notes the special circumstance of House District 1, which has two borders with Alabama, and often is first to feel the pinch of the state’s economic policies.
“There’s a reason why we have to drive to Foley to get to certain stores,” said Bydlak. “Part of that is because Florida is the only state that penalizes business rentals. We add a tax on top of business rentals, and in the Panhandle, we see that very directly. What happens is they just go about fifteen minutes to the north or to the west, where they don’t have to pay that fee on top of it.”
Bydlak plans to continue Ingram’s work to get rid of the commercial lease tax.
Moving to the proposed constitutional amendments, she’s hesitant to weigh in, saying approval or rejection is strictly up to the voters.
But, she went on the record opposing Amendment 4, which would restore voting rights to eligible felons, with exceptions for more serious crimes; then she pivoted with a different approach to the situation.
“My priority as a lawmaker is to make sure that other things, so many things aren’t felonies. There are hundreds of things end up being felonies that we’re tasking our law enforcement to take care of.”
Rebekah Bydlak is one of about eight dozen women vying for legislative seats in 2018. And, as she awaits her 28th birthday, looks to be part of the youth movement that’s making its mark.
“I’ll be serving with several 21 and 22 year-olds, and I am really excited, particularly as a conservative, to see the next generation going in a conservative direction because it’s about our future.”
Bydlak faces Mike Hill and Lisa Doss in the Republican Primary Election on August 28.
The Democratic candidates Vikki Garrett and Franscine Mathis also will be featured. Efforts to schedule an interview with Doss have been unsuccessful to date.