PICAYUNE — Mark Formby is wearing many hats these days. He owns and runs Formby Realty in one of the state’s fastest-growing areas, is a proud new father and represents District 108 in the Mississippi House of Representatives where he chairs one of the most crucial committees.
He was first elected in 1993 when re-districting brought about a re-configured district. Victory for the House seat came after two unsuccessful races to serve in the state senate. He thinks he was the first Republican elected to a state or county office in Pearl River County.
“That’s why I lost the first two elections. There was not a Republican at that time serving in the county and people laughed about it,” he recalls. “I was advised by family members and others to run as a Democrat. They thought I would be beating my head against a wall as a Republican.”
Formby is glad to say he broke through that glass ceiling in his home county. He is also happy to note that party affiliation has changed in Pearl River County and in 2007 most all county officials are Republican.
He has no regrets about running as a Republican and says he’ll continue to carry the party banner as long as the party doesn’t change.
“I served as state president of the Jaycees and vice president of the United States Jaycees. When that service ended, I was looking for something to do,” he says of his decision to seek public office. “As a conservative Republican, I was not happy with some things I saw and wanted to make a difference.”
In the House of Representatives, Formby chairs the insurance committee, an assignment that’s always been important but has become pivotal with post-Katrina insurance issues.
“It was a hot committee before with issues such as workers’ comp and compulsory liability, but I had no idea what a load was till Katrina struck,” he said. “It has made my service worthwhile. Our biggest hurdle is that we must create an environment where insurance companies will continue to write policies in the state. To do that, we’ve got to give them some degree of confidence they won’t take another hit from a deficit in the Wind Pool.”
Formby referred to the $458-million shortfall that insurance companies had to pitch in and cover after Katrina. A bill passed his committee that will beef up the reserve through direct payments from federal and state governments, premiums and a percentage of sales tax from coastal counties.
“We must build it up quickly in case there’s another storm soon,” he said. “Another component will allow the Wind Pool association to issue bonds and assess policy holders statewide. The subsidy kicks in only if the deficit is over $100 million. Subsidizing insurance premiums goes against my philosophy but it’s the only way to build it up.”
He points out that many people, including legislators, don’t understand how the Wind Pool works. He thinks the bill has a good chance of passing.
“The key players have all worked hard on it. I’m proud of some North Mississippi legislators. They are going along with it,” he said. “We received a lot of calls from people after Katrina wanting to help and this is the way they can help.”
Pearl River County was in the path of Katrina and Formby’s home suffered considerable damage. The family was without electricity for 39 days. That was when he was living in the country. Now, he and his wife, Rita, and seven-month-old daughter Rebekah are living on Main Street in Picayune.
This 50-year-old legislator has worked in real estate 15 years and started his own company three years ago. He says it’s a typical small city realty firm that works in residential and commercial transactions. Pearl River County inherited a lot of citizens from the Coast and New Orleans. Formby estimates the population countywide has grown by 20,000 to 40,000 people.
“The market is very good here. We had a big spike in sales the first six months after Katrina, and then it leveled off,” he said. “Now we have the slower winter market but it’s been steady. We have a need for more modest priced homes to meet the demand of the market.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.