Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Politics

Florida Speaker Weatherford exits public stage, says he'll be back

TALLAHASSEE — As he looks ahead to an uncertain future, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford wants to be remembered as a compassionate conservative who promoted the hopes of the working class with measures like lower auto tag fees for all and in-state tuition for undocumented children.

"This is a session that cut taxes for every Floridian," Weatherford said Friday night. "This is the session that created educational opportunities for more children."

Yet the Pasco County Republican may best be remembered for what he didn't do: expand Medicaid, leaving at least 750,000 Floridians without affordable health care.

His sunny, upbeat conservatism was supposed to be an antidote to the win-at-all-costs brinksmanship of his predecessor, Dean Cannon. But the publicly unflappable 34-year-old didn't hesitate to retaliate against those who got in his way.

In mid March, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola, gave a news conference with union groups and declared that it would "snow in Miami" before the Senate would go along with Weatherford's plan to put more state workers' retirement funds into private hands.

Weatherford didn't like the forecast.

"It was out of order," he said Saturday, the day after session. "It was rude."

It also was the end of Evers' own legislative priorities. Four of his bills passed the Senate with near unanimous support, including an effort to get more local produce to homeless shelters and soup kitchens. The bills never got a House hearing.

"It probably didn't snow in Miami, but a lot of bills got frozen in the Florida House," Weatherford said. It happened "organically," he insisted.

Evers is not convinced.

"I would hate to think we saw good public policy die because of a comment I made in public," he said.

• • •

Since joining the Legislature in 2006 with the help of his father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense, Weatherford has made friends who foresee a big political future for him.

He's being forced to leave office later this year because of term limits, but says he plans to return to public office. How and when, however, are unclear. His name came up for chairman of the Republican Party of Florida last week, but he took it out of the running on Saturday, partly at the behest of his wife, Courtney, who is pregnant with the couple's fourth child.

"I have a higher calling right now," Weatherford said in a tweet on Saturday. "Being a more present husband and father."

His private sector sources of income last year included two vaguely described consulting jobs, including one for Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, that earned him a total of $83,000.

Weatherford said he has no timetable for seeking office.

"I'm not looking for something," he said. "If there's an opportunity, I'll take a look, but there's a value in stepping back."

• • •

As he returns to private life, Weatherford leaves behind an uneven legacy in the Legislature.

He made a mark on conservative issues such as teacher merit pay, school choice, and, in a lurch to the middle this year, in-state tuition for undocumented students. Though Gov. Rick Scott needed the tuition measure to appeal to Hispanic voters, the bill faced serious opposition from Senate President Don Gaetz. Weatherford's tenacity earned respect from Democrats and nonpartisan observers.

"I'm deeply frustrated with his failure to expand Medicaid," said Karen Woodall, executive director of the Florida Center for Fiscal Economic Policy, a Tallahassee nonprofit research group. "No other decision impacts as many people. But I have to give him credit for in-state tuition.''

Democratic strategist Steve Schale got to know Weatherford when he was first elected and Schale was working for the Democratic office.

"The knock on him the first session was he was following the party line and played to the base," Schale said. "This session it took some courage to push through in-state tuition. That wasn't an easy lift."

But Weatherford continued to push a conservative agenda.

For the second year in a row, he tried passing pension reform, a top priority for the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group founded by billionaire libertarian brothers David and Charles Koch. It was opposed by union groups that objected to the elimination of guaranteed retirement benefits that they say public employees depend on in retirement.

When his bill failed in the Senate, Weatherford killed a municipal pension bill, which had broad bipartisan support and backing from unions and cities alike.

"I guess the speaker was angry that the Senate didn't pass his bill," said a sponsor of the local pension bill, Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate. "From a public policy standpoint, it's tough to wrap my arms around it."

Weatherford said Ring's was a good bill, but no one should be surprised at its demise.

"We made it clear to the Senate that we wouldn't pass the local bill without the state pension bill,'' he said.

Weatherford says he doesn't dwell on defeat. He said he knew all along it was going to get defeated and the session played out according to plan.

"We never lost a vote that we didn't expect," Weatherford said. "There were no big surprises."

Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or [email protected]

Comments
Hey kids, you really stink at this voting business

Hey kids, you really stink at this voting business

The public service announcement begins with an insult.This works on several levels for the audience of teenagers.It grabs their attention and makes them laugh. It also happens to be wickedly accurate, and it pretty much explains why Pasco Supervisor ...
Published: 09/25/18
You thought you knew these candidates? In House District 38, it's Tent Killer challengng Little Danny

You thought you knew these candidates? In House District 38, it's Tent Killer challengng Little Danny

Most everybody knew John David Hayes simply as “David’’ until 1982. The then-21-year-old skydiving enthusiast, however, made a bad landing on his 11th jump in Alberta, Canada, and soon everyone started calling him something else....
Published: 09/25/18
Rod Rosenstein, who had been overseeing Russia probe, has offered to resign

Rod Rosenstein, who had been overseeing Russia probe, has offered to resign

WASHINGTON - Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein has told White House officials he is willing to resign in the wake of revelations he once suggested secretly recording the president, but itís unclear if the resignation has been accepted, according...
Published: 09/24/18
Solar farm land price is $6.8 million, including $4.4 million to state Sen. Wilton Simpson

Solar farm land price is $6.8 million, including $4.4 million to state Sen. Wilton Simpson

Tampa Electric Co. has said its Mountain View Solar project near Dade City represented a $75 million investment in alternative energy. The investing began in earnest last week when the utility paid more than $6.8 million for 382 acres in the rural co...
Published: 09/24/18
US considers limit on green cards for immigrants on benefits

US considers limit on green cards for immigrants on benefits

SAN DIEGO — The Trump administration has proposed rules that could deny green cards to immigrants if they use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers and other forms of public assistance.Federal law already requires those seeking green cards t...
Published: 09/23/18
Christine Blasey Ford reaches deal to  testify at Kavanaugh hearing

Christine Blasey Ford reaches deal to testify at Kavanaugh hearing

The woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers has committed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, her lawyers said Sunday. The lawyers said some details — including whe...
Published: 09/23/18

AP source: Kavanaugh, Ford agree to testify on Thursday

WASHINGTON ó Negotiators reached a tentative agreement Saturday for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hear testimony Thursday from Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault from decades ago, two...
Published: 09/22/18

Trump administration aims to sharply restrict new green cards for those on public aid

WASHINGTON ó Trump administration officials announced Saturday that immigrants who legally use public benefits like food assistance and Section 8 housing vouchers could be denied green cards under new rules aimed at keeping out people the administrat...
Published: 09/22/18
Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

TAMPA ó During a showdown Friday in Floridaís most hotly contested state Senate race, Democratic challenger Janet Cruz launched fireworks at Dana Young over education funding, the environment and guns.Young, the Republican incumbent in District 18, r...
Published: 09/21/18
Drug bill canít undo damage

Drug bill canít undo damage

On Sept. 5, two months before Election Day where heís running for a seventh term, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis filed a bill to clarify a 2016 law he co-sponsored that made it nearly impossible for the Drug Enforcement Administration to intercept suspiciou...
Published: 09/20/18
Updated: 09/23/18