Gaetz, Weatherford: We Will Advance Conservatism in Session's Final Days
Around the State
With barely a week to go until the legislative finish line, Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Destin, and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, pledged to continue working together in their final days in charge of their chambers.
Gaetz and Weatherford spoke at the James Madison Institute’s (JMI) annual dinner in Tallahassee Wednesday night in a question-and-answer session moderated by Bob McClure, president and CEO of JMI.
Gaetz offered a sharp contrast between how Congress and the Florida Legislature are handling matters including school choice and economic issues. “In Washington, they’re trying to find which taxes to raise,” Gaetz said. “We’re trying to find which taxes to cut.”
The Senate president insisted fiscal conservatism would win out, even as the Senate’s budget stands under $75 billion with the House’s proposal around $75.3 billion. “We’re going to live within our means,” Gaetz said. “We’re going to balance the budget. We’re going to cut taxes.”
Taking a page from fiscal conservative writers Travis Brown and Stephen Moore, who spoke earlier in the evening on how state and national policies impact the economy, Gaetz contrasted Florida with New York, noting the Empire State has the same population as the Sunshine State, but spends twice as much on state government. “We’re not making the same kind of mistakes as other states,” Gaetz said. “We’re not making the same kind of mistakes as Washington.”
Weatherford praised JMI for offering “conservative leadership” and fighting for “fiscal responsibility” before turning his attention to the 2014 gubernatorial contest. Noting that unemployment stood at 4 percent in Florida when Charlie Crist became governor, Weatherford pointed out that it increased to “almost 12 percent” under his watch. Having left the Republicans in 2010 and joined the Democrats in 2012, Crist is the favorite for his new party’s nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott in November.
“We made some electoral mistakes that hopefully we won’t make again in November,” Weatherford said, taking a shot at Crist.
Asked by McClure what he was proudest of during his two years as speaker, Weatherford praised his partnership with Gaetz as they worked on “significant, bold initiatives.” Weatherford also talked about servant leadership in the House and how the members were more important than the speaker. “You have a small thimble of influence which comes and goes very quickly,” Weatherford said.
Gaetz said he was proud of being able to build common ground in the Senate, saying leaders should “listen to the opposition, not agree with them” and “try to find some common ground.” Noting his own efforts to expand school choice in Florida, Gaetz said he often worked with former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson on the matter.
Looking ahead to the future, Weatherford said he hopes the GOP leadership controlling Tallahassee will be able to “broaden” its appeal by “fighting for people who can’t fight for themselves.” Weatherford said Republicans needed to focus their messaging to “lift people from generational poverty with freedom and education,” which means more outreach.
“If Florida is going to be successful, we can’t just talk about the unemployment rate,” Weatherford said, insisting generations of Floridians are being trapped in poverty.
Gaetz cautioned conservatives not to count on success and urged them to fight for their values in the public arena, saying he hopes “the impulse to never give in” continues to drive them.
Both leaders also weighed in on family, with Gaetz saying he was proud of his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, while both the leaders also praised former House Speaker Allan Bense, chairman of JMI’s board and Weatherford’s father-in-law.
Gaetz praised Weatherford as “extraordinary” and “dynamic” and said the term-limited speaker would be a force at the state and national levels in the years to come.
“He is the future,” Gaetz said of his legislative partner.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.