Nobody's saying exactly that Bill Montford is the governor's guy. But the former Leon County superintendent (left) sure looked that way after the State Board of Education axed his name from the field of ed commissioner candidates yesterday.
Shortly after the vote, Montford could be found waiting in the governor's reception area, where he said he had been summoned to talk with Crist, a longtime friend who extolled his virtues before the board vote.
"I think a lot of Bill. He's a great friend, I think he's clearly dedicated to education. He's dedicated his life to it," Crist said earlier in the day, leaving little doubt about his personal preference about who should become commissioner. (Montford and Crist are old friends, and Crist remains grateful for Montford's help, as a then-superintendent, when Crist won election to become the state's last elected education commissioner from 2000-2002.)
The State Board had other ideas, though. They split along a Charlie-Jeb fault line over whether to allow late applicants into the finalist pool, with Crist allies on the losing side. Montford applied for the post on Saturday - more than two weeks after the July 23 deadline had passed. He explained that he put in his papers so late because the recruiting firm hired by the state was soliciting more applications for the position.
For her part, Proact Search president Nancy Noeske told the board that she could not recommend Montford because his application was so tardy that her team didn't have time to vet him properly.
"I accept the board's decision," said Montford, who added he was encouraged to apply, but would not say by whom.
Will this become a political struggle between the governor and the State Board? Maybe.
But Crist doesn't appear to have the votes to get his way on the board, where his main power is in appointments. He did appoint chairman T. Willard Fair, one of Jeb Bush's original appointees, but Fair did not support letting late applicants into the pool. Wait to see whether the politics heats up on this high-profile gig.
The State Board is scheduled to interview the seven finalists on Sept. 17-18.
- Steve Bousquet, Tallahassee bureau chief, and Jeff Solochek