Friday, December 15, 2017

Ruth: Weatherford finds it pays to be coy

It would seem the Florida House speaker, Pasco County's own Will Weatherford, R-Lil' Rascals, might have a bit of a Harry Lee Coe conundrum.

When the late eccentric, absent-minded Hillsborough County state attorney was asked where he thought his lost official sheriff-issued guns might be, Coe famously opined that he had no idea where they were, but wherever they were, they were where they were supposed to be.

Well, at least it made sense to Coe.

It seems that the speaker has managed to accumulate all sorts of non-legislative jobs, but no one seems able to figure out exactly what it is that Weatherford actually does on his way to disclosing an income of $122,814 a year.

But rest assured, while nobody knows for sure what Weatherford does, whatever he does, he apparently does it very well.

As the Tampa Bay Times' Michael Van Sickler reported Sunday, in addition to the speaker's salary of $29,714, Weatherford also collects a $31,500 paycheck from the Red Eagle Group, an environmental concern, and $52,000 from the Breckenridge Enterprises/Diamond K Group, a payroll services company. He also collects $9,600 in rent for a Tallahassee condo.

Channeling his inner Daddy Warbucks to become an entrepreneur, Red Eagle is Weatherford's own company, whose entire source of income is Simpson Environmental Services, an asbestos removal firm owned by state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-All in the Family.

No on would tell Van Sickler what tasks Weatherford performs to justify his income. And on that sore point, the speaker has declined to provide much help.

Simpson put it best when he explained that Weatherford "has a lot of autonomy. He doesn't punch a time clock."

About the only detail Weatherford will provide about his job description is that he helps to build relationships. Forgive a pinch of cynicism, but it might be argued that the skill set Will Weatherford has honed to perfection is being Will Weatherford.

There was a time long ago when people elected to the Legislature were already established in their private sector careers, enabling them to take time away from their jobs to serve. Weatherford, a young man in a hurry, didn't have that luxury.

After graduating from Jacksonville University in 2002, Weatherford found employment as a legislative assistant to his father-in-law, Speaker Allan Bense, from 2004 to 2006. By 2007, Weatherford, a mere 28, was elected to the House himself and was speaker by 32.

You don't move up the ladder that fast by also having to worry about a non-political job. In Tallahassee, ambition is a 24/7 vocation. And being speaker is full-time toil — wheeling-dealing, fundraising, traveling — despite its modest $29,714 pay scale. Nor can you have a speaker of the Florida House living out of a box down by the river — hence the need for a big-shot job, even if no one can say what it is.

He's not the first speaker who came into the job with less real-life work experience than Prince Charles. Florida's junior Sen. Marco Rubio managed to ascend to the speakership at 35. At this rate in about another decade or so, Florida's House speaker could well be a complexion-challenged 14-year-old in his pajamas who got the job after winning an Angry Birds marathon.

But the real question is how the public is to ascertain whether Weatherford has conflicts of interest when he is so coy about explaining how he actually earns his non-legislative pay of $93,100.

Ultimately Weatherford is the poster child of a term-limited Legislature populated by an amateur political class. After 2014, assuming he doesn't pursue another public trough gig, the speaker will likely wind up building relationships as a professional, schmoozing lobbyist.

At last, a job he will have plenty of experience to handle.

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