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Weatherford's success might help down the road

The political victories continue to accumulate for Will Weatherford.

He just won re-election to the Florida House of Representatives when no Democrat, Green Party, independent or write-in filed to run against him.

Two years ago, as a late entrant into the race, Weatherford won by telling people to vote for the incumbent, Ken Littlefield.

The more they tried to explain the switch — Weatherford was the party's designee to run for Littlefield whose name remained on the ballot even though he was leaving for another state job — the more confusing it became for the public. In the end, Weatherford won in a rout after his Democratic opponent dropped from sight and acknowledged later he had been held for mental health treatment under the state's Baker Act.

Just three months after the election Weatherford emerged as the frontrunner for the House speaker to be named after the 2012 election. Not bad for a guy whose name has never been on the ballot.

But that doesn't mean Weatherford is sitting on the sidelines acting like a noncandidate. He spent his wedding anniversary Tuesday evening addressing the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce annual dinner. Wednesday, he met yours truly for an 8 a.m. interview at Starbucks.

He confessed some pols advised him to find a loyal noncandidate to file as a write-in challenger. But Weatherford skipped the John Nicolette school of electioneering. Not because the tactic would close a primary election just to Republicans. The strategy was to get Weatherford's name on the November ballot with no named opposition so people would get used to voting for him.

This is known as piling on. Sort of like using your closer in baseball when you have an 11-run lead in the ninth inning. To his credit, Weatherford bypassed the deceitful way to build name recognition. Why mess with a winning streak?

Besides, there is enough duplicity on the campaign trail already. For instance, Republicans are using off-shore drilling as their wedge issue for 2008, hoping to blame Democrats for gasoline at $4 a gallon. (See U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite's commentary elsewhere on this page.)

Weatherford said he is not opposed to lifting the ban, if for no other reason, than for the affect the prospect of domestic production will have on OPEC prices. This is known as a bluff.

But, give Weatherford some kudos. He didn't parrot the intellectual dishonesty of suggesting drilling for oil off Florida's coast will bring immediate relief at the pumps. House Speaker Marco Rubio already harpooned that idea as disingenuous.

The cost of gas is creating other troubles for government. Higher fuel prices means fewer drivers as commuters turn to mass transit, car pooling and other alternative transportation methods. That means less gas tax money to build roads.

The state Department of Transportation already projects a $32-million cut from Pasco's work program at the same time local elected officials, sitting as the Metropolitan Planning Organization, changed the ranking of its proposed road projects to put more emphasis on widening State Road 54 between Curley and Morris Bridge roads in Wesley Chapel.

The two-lane route is part of the east-west congestion through the heart of Weatherford's District 61. By ranking it higher on the wish list, local officials are banking on Weatherford, the presumed future speaker of the House, to obtain the millions of dollars needed to widen it.

It helps explain why Weatherford, a freshman legislator for whom nobody has ever voted, faces no political opposition. There is little desire to sidetrack a shot at a Pasco representative being one of the three most powerful people in state government. Likewise, there wasn't much inclination from the Democrats to run a long-shot candidate who would have forced Weatherford to campaign for a large Republican turn-out in his district, effectively diminishing the chances for other Democratic office-seekers.

But, just as relevant, is the task that lies ahead in Tallahassee. Revenue projections continue to decline. The Legislature approved a budget, that begins July 1, that is nearly $6-billion less than what had been authorized a year earlier. Then, two weeks ago, Gov. Charlie Crist ordered state government departments to hold back 4 percent of their planned spending for the coming year.

There is not much appetite for elected public service if all you get to do after the election is vote on spending cuts.

Weatherford's success might help down the road 06/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2008 11:42am]
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