Reform Will Weatherford-Style: Campaign Finance, Education and Pension Overhauls
Around the State
As he navigates his first session as House speaker, Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, will try to imply a “tone” that has him playing the role of “inclusive reformer.”
It's a wise move. He will be working with Democrats who have eliminated the GOP’s supermajority.
Still, he said, the Republican Party continues to hold a vast majority in the House, 76 to 44, and that means the Republicans' continued pursuit of reducing taxes and eliminating business regulations won’t be slowed.
“I know that you’re only speaker for two years and you have a small thimble of influence in this process, and my plan is to use that thimble of influence on issues that matter, and challenges that are real,” Weatherford said while meeting with reporters in the speaker's conference room at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Among the areas he will focus on: campaign finance reform, education reform and state employee retirement plans.
While leaders have been stymied in efforts to revise the bloated state pension system by requiring state employees to start contributing 3 percent of their pay, Weatherford suggests simply putting any new employee into a 401(k)-style retirement system.
“I think we need to do what the private sector did many years ago, which is move to a defined contribution plan for all of our employees,” Weatherford said.
“That means if you’re an employee here you will continue to have the plan that you want and if that is a defined benefit plan, that's OK. But for all new employees, we have to recognize for states to be fiscally responsible long-term and deal with the challenges we have -- and this is one that is staring us in the face. I think we have to deal with it.”
Weatherford, 32, who worked as a legislative assistant to his father-in-law and former Speaker Allan Bense before running for office in 2006, doesn’t expect the loss of the supermajority to impact the overall ability of the GOP to run the Legislature. He also wasn’t surprised that the Democrats were able to pick up five seats in the last election.
“We lost the supermajority when we drew the maps," he said. "I think most people recognized this and I think I stated on the floor at the time that the maps that came out of the House probably would cost the Republicans majority seats.”
Weatherford oversaw the House redistricting effort in 2011-2012 that -- unlike the lines the Senate initially offered for itself -- was found fully in compliance by the Florida Supreme Court with the stringent requirements of the Fair Districts amendments that were expected to eliminate political gerrymandering.
“My job as the chairman of that process was not to maximize Republican representation, it was to follow the law in Amendments 5 and 6 and I knew if we did that, it would cost us seats, but it was the right thing to do,” Weatherford said.
“I still stand by the decision we made. I congratulate our friends on the other side of the aisle, who picked up a few seats. It looks like we’ll have about a 76-44 majority. I think 76 to 44 is still a strong majority.”
Reach Jim Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 215-9889.