Over the last five years, former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford has grown into one of the most prominent political leaders in the Sunshine State and his star could go even higher in the years to come.
Weatherford has spent much of his life in other peoples shadows. While he was a good football player for the Jacksonville University Dolphins, Weatherford simply never was at the level of his brother Drew, who played quarterback for the Florida State University Seminoles. The son-in-law of former Florida House Speaker Allen Bense, Weatherford has often been written off as a lightweight who has risen due to his family connections.
But Weatherford proved a far more tough politician than his doubters thought and that was clearly on display over the last five years. During his time as speaker, for example, Weatherford broke with Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and other Republicans over Medicaid expansion. Weatherford also continued to push public pension reform for state employees, trying to move their retirement plans in line with the private sector, despite resistance in the Senate which eventually won out. Conservatives can complain about some of Weatherfords policies -- namely in-state tuition for illegals -- but generally he kept the House in the conservative column.
Weatherford is out of office now but he is not out of mind. His name has been bandied about for the U.S. Senate in 2016 and for the 2018 gubernatorial race and thats telling. Very few presiding officers in either the Senate or the House survived their tenures with their future electoral ambitions intact. Weatherford left the House speakership with his political hopes very much alive.
During the two years he held the gavel, Weatherford, who is now 35, was the youngest presiding officer in any state legislature across the country. While there were some setbacks, including pension reform, on the whole Weatherford successfully led the House. One of the reasons for that was Weatherfords strong partnership with then-Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Destin, who always went out of his way to praise his House counterpart, often offering moving personal testimony about his admiration for the young speaker.
Over the last five years, by managing the House and generally being a force to advance conservatism, Weatherford has ranked as one of the leading political personalities. Still, as well he has done in the last five years, they might be only a prelude for Weatherford who can be expected to aim for higher office in the years to come. Even with a crowded Republican bench in Florida, Weatherford stands in nobodys shadow.
(ABOUT THIS SERIES: Will Weatherford is the eighthin a special anniversary series of 20 political personalities who loomed large since early 2010, when Sunshine State News set up shop in Tallahassee. Who else made the list? Click here to find out.)
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @KevinDerbySSN