“At 32, the quick-thinking, hard-studying, razor-cut former college linebacker (who looks like he still could provide quality downs in run situations) and prolific dad (daughter No. 3 arrives mid-October) from Wesley Chapel frames the definition of ‘rising star,’ ” gushes Tom Jackson in the Tampa Tribune.
“It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Will the Paul Ryan of the Florida House, though he’s certainly too modest to say that himself,” says veteran Florida GOP strategist Todd Harris.
No less than the National Review recently identified Weatherford as “Another Rubio.”
This all well and good, but a word of advice to my friend Will Weatherford: Live by the media, die by the media.
Not that Weatherford lives or dies by the press, it’s just that this ‘rising star’ talk has me worried about his future.
Because, for Will Weatherford, the future is now.
After all, being Speaker of the House isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Just ask Johnnie Byrd or Tom Feeney or Ray Sansom.
Even a “successful” Speaker, such as Dean Cannon, only has so much to show — save for a very loyal staff (I see you, Kirk Pepper) — for all of their hard work. Even Rubio, with his 100 Ideas, was left to wander after he was done serving as leader of the Florida House.
Hopefully, Weatherford won’t be left wandering. But, then again, where does he have to go after he is done in the House? Anywhere and nowhere.
Congress? Yeah, sure, Weatherford could primary U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis or Richard Nugent, but I don’t see Will doing that.
Florida Senate? Alright, but after eight years in the Senate, Weatherford will still be in his early 40’s and questions about what will he do next will be around then.
Weatherford could be headed along the same path as his father-in-law, Allan Bense, who served as Speaker of the House from 2004 to 2006. Since then he has often been the bridesmaid, but never the bride. Bense has been mentioned as an appointee or candidate for every major office or vacancy, but never pulled the trigger on a return for politics.
Not that there is anything wrong with Bense’s comfortable, distinguished life, but isn’t all of the talk about Weatherford being a ‘rising star’ an indication that he destined for something more?
Again, that something more is now.
It’s doubtful the Florida GOP will have its stars aligned as it does right now: an arch-conservative in the governor’s mansion; near-super majorities in both chambers of the Florida Legislature; the political winds at their backs.
As former State Senator Jim King liked to say, now is the time to back up the truck.
Will Weatherford is a darling of the medai. He has a devoted Republican caucus in the House. He’s razor-sharp and telegenic.
That’s why Will must find his Weatherford-goes-to-China moments.
Just as he oversaw a reapportionment process that defied expectations and delivered a (relatively) fair set of redistricted legislative maps, Weatherford should identify three issues which have languished in the Legislature. The more intractable, the better.
For example, Weatherford could lead the House in re-writing the state’s complicated gaming laws.
Figure out what to do with Internet cafes. Improve the compact with the Seminole Tribe. Retire some of the outdated rules governing parimutuels. Etc., etc.
This is the kind of issue that has languished in the House and Senate because the lobbyists and special interests prefer no changes to difficult, but needed changes. It is the kind of issue which has been dealt with piecemeal, rather than all at once because no one has had a genuine, unifying vision for the industry.
This is the kind of issue similar to so many besetting Florida politics.
Another intractable issue Weatherford could help solve is ethics and elections reform. Take the best ideas from conservatives and combine them with the best ideas from watchdog organizations like Integrity Florida and just clean up the political system. For example, lift the limits on campaign contributions, but require real-time disclosure.
No one in Tallahassee has been Herculean enough to clean the Augean stables. Will Weatherford could be this mythical figure.
Just be it now, Will, not later.