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Perks, not pork await speaker's home turf

Here's what having the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives as your neighbor won't get you: A medical institute or a new state university.

Former House Speaker Johnnie Byrd of Plant City pushed through the Byrd Alzheimer Institute as a legacy to his father. Former Senate budget chief JD Alexander's parting gift to his district was the 12th state university — Florida Polytechnic in Polk County.

But Will Weatherford says Pasco County should expect no such state spending windfall over the next two years. No House Speaker Highway. No Weatherford Center for Job Incubation.

Weatherford, 33, begins his final two-year term representing Wesley Chapel and eastern Pasco as the leader of the state House of Representatives. He'll leave in 2014 still youthful enough to join the Jaycees, but with no immediate plans for another run for elected office. Father to three young daughters, husband and breadwinner are on his future agenda.

Smart. Remember Byrd's expansion of the House communications staff by 13 people as a precursor to puffing up his failed U.S. Senate bid nine years ago, or Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos' stumbling leadership as he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2011 and you'll understand the down side of mixing top legislative authority with naked political ambition.

Weatherford's goals are more modest. Like we said, no big infrastructure bonanza for the locals, but that's not to say there won't be benefits. Under Weatherford's watch, state money helped seal the planned Raymond James & Associates office site in Wesley Chapel, built a community center in Lacoochee and boosted prescription drug abuse treatment in west Pasco.

However, Weatherford does have the opportunity in 2013 to repair inequities or plan for the future. If state funding formulas penalize Pasco-Hernando Community College or local child welfare agencies, they should be fixed. If innovative thinking for managing future traffic demands along the State Road 54/56 corridor requires a $250,000 study, the state should be able to help. If Florida and Pasco road planners disagree over the design of a new interchange at State Road 52 and Interstate 75, maybe the Legislature can help mitigate the difference. (Pasco wants the railroad right of way protected for bicycle paths, but the state says its too pricey.)

Much of Weatherford's stated leadership style has been delineated previously: Reward bold ideas; admire bipartisan efforts and turn down the rhetoric. "Common sense governing,'' he calls it.

Well, there's been a shortage of that in Tallahassee. Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature that includes Weatherford have been slapped by the courts for ignoring constitutional limits on their authority. Education funding is still down from where it stood five years ago. Republicans criticized the federal economic stimulus dollars then used the money to plug state budget shortfalls. Meanwhile, Scott killed high-speed rail, fought implementation of the federal health care laws known as Obamacare and just got caught exaggerating the law's potential financial cost to Floridians.

The push back came from voters in November. Scott is now trying to recast his image. Weatherford must help recast the Legislature's. Clearly, common sense also means political sense. Or, political survival.

At the top of Weatherford's legislative list are election and ethics reform and expanding online post-secondary education. He thinks legislators shouldn't be accepting second state paychecks for cushy jobs and wants to give the state Ethics Commission the ability to garnish wages of public officials turned fine-ignoring scofflaws.

"Government works better when people trust it,'' he says.

As a Pasco resident, Weatherford must put his own trust in local government officials to lead accordingly. He worries who will succeed John Gallagher as Pasco County administrator. He is not worried about the Pasco public school district where Kurt Browning, who benefitted from Weatherford's support and financial contributions in the 2012 election, is now superintendent.

Weatherford's oldest daughter is not yet 5, but Weatherford and his wife, Courtney, plan to enroll their children in Pasco's public schools. They will remain in Wesley Chapel and that highlights one more item on a personal agenda.

Weatherford hopes, down the road, his own children will choose to stay local because of the quality of life and job opportunities here. That's the parent, not the legislator, talking. But it's a perspective in short supply in Tallahassee where decisions are most often made based on special interests' short-term demands, not in the long-term interest of Floridians who also hope their children will stay close by.

Perks, not pork await speaker's home turf 01/12/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 5:23pm]
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