Friday, Apr 18, 2014
Columns

Weatherford has House off to ferocious start


Published:

“I’m exhausted” is all 33-year-old Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford could manage to say to me in a text responding to a question about how his Friday had gone.

Weatherford could have blamed his exhaustion on being the father of a 5-month-old child (in addition to two other wonderful young children). But Weatherford’s exhaustion, undoubtedly short-lived, was due to the flurry of activity that took place in the House last Friday — a ferocious agenda of major legislation passed only three weeks in to the 2013 legislative session.

As Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel tweeted, “Easy to get myopic and incremental, but dang, the House passed some big bills today.”

In the spate of four hours and 10 minutes, the Florida House of Representatives approved along party lines a controversial plan (B 7011) to close off the Florida Retirement System’s traditional pension plan to future public employees, voted 108-7 to ban the machines used for games in Internet cafes (HB 155), passed a series of measures related to the funding of campaigns (HB 569), and unanimously passed HB 7065, a bill spelling out the process for Everglades cleanup going forward.

Were the House to come to an agreement with the Senate on just these measures, along with passage of a budget, the Florida Legislature could adjourn and declare the 2013 session a success.

There is, however, a lot of clock left in the game. Coming to agreement with the Senate on any, much less all, of the legislation passed on Friday is a tall order. And drafting a budget is a Herculean task in its own right.

Weatherford and his colleagues should be credited for pursuing such an ambitious agenda. Instead, Weatherford’s star has been dimmed — because what the media giveth, it also taketh away.

Weatherford “could never live up to the extraordinary bipartisan optimism and enthusiasm for his speakership,” wrote the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith in his state round-up column, in which he names the Wesley Chapel Republican his “Loser of the Week” in Florida politics.

“Weatherford has managed to scrape off the sheen awfully fast, starting with painfully misleading personal anecdotes about why he opposes Medicaid expansion in Florida,” Smith wrote. “Weatherford also flies in style aboard a lobbyist’s plane, and between his preening before right-wing party activists in Washington last weekend and his approach on overhauling Florida pensions, he’s in danger of looking more like an ideologue than a leader.”

Ouch.

Other sprouts of discontent toward Weatherford have shot up. A Facebook page titled “How does Will Weatherford sleep at night” has been created. Members of Organizing for Action marched in front of Weatherford’s office last Saturday with signs reading, “Where there’s a Will, there’s no Way,” and “Patients over Politics.”

Weatherford’s personal anecdote about why he opposed Medicaid expansion was, as one member of his legislative leadership team pointed out to me, the “first time Will stepped in it.”

However, Smith’s snark about Weatherford “flying in style” is cliche journalism at its worst. As is his assessment that Weatherford preened at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference. (How is delivering a speech preening?) And Weatherford’s approach to overhauling Florida pensions, while not sitting well with moderate Republicans like Jack Latvala, is the kind of Chris Christie-esque leadership of which the state is in short supply.

Still, Smith’s labeling of Weatherford as the “Loser of the Week” is only the latest evidence that Weatherford is being forced to quickly learn how the other half lives — whether he deserves to find out or not.

In a September op-ed, I warned Weatherford that if he lives by the media, he would die by the media. I suggested he pursue a Nixon-goes-to-China agenda of bold policy initiatives, including banning Internet cafes and reforming election and ethics regulations.

So far, I was right, despite Weatherford doing exactly what I and most everyone else have asked of him.

Sometimes, Speaker Weatherford, doing good won’t be enough. Daring to be great may not even be enough. But Friday sure was a helluva effort at proving your critics wrong.


Peter Schorsch, a political consultant based in St. Petersburg, publishes and edits the Florida political blog SaintPetersBlog.com. Readers can contact Schorsch at saintpeter4@gmail.com.

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