Will Weatherford for Lieutenant Governor? No
Around the State
Will Weatherford is the latest name attracting buzz as Rick Scott continues his search for a lieutenant governor. But there’s little political upside for the Florida House speaker to change course so he can serve as the governor’s understudy.
Weatherford, the youngest legislative leader in the nation, is a rising star for Republicans, and conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) have honored him this year. In many quarters he is seen as the next Marco Rubio.
There are also differences between the two Republicans. Rubio was more of a loner on his way up. Weatherford has benefited from being the son-in-law of Allan Bense. Even while the Weatherfords might not be the Mannings, Will played football at Jacksonville University, his brother Joe played at Central Florida, his father and grandfather played at Southern Methodist. Will’s brother Drew Weatherford was the starting quarterback for Florida State in his sophomore and junior years before being benched behind current Minnesota Vikings QB Christian Ponder. From his rise in politics after Ken Littlefield left the Florida House to his days playing college football, Weatherford always had the support of his family.
Weatherford will be term-limited in the House at the end of 2014, but he should have options down the road. In the short term, running for Congress probably isn’t high on his list. Gus Bilirakis is only 50 and the seat’s been held by the Bilirakis family for 30 years. But there are other opportunities. Bill Nelson will be 76 in 2018 when his term in the U.S. Senate ends. It’s easy to see Weatherford running for the seat, especially if Nelson decides not to run for a fourth term. But there’s another prize open in 2018 when Scott will face term limits or whichever Democrat defeats him in 2014 will run for a second term as governor.
In 2018, Weatherford should certainly be at the top of the list of Republicans running for governor or for the Senate. He’ll have competition, of course. Despite a decade-long stint in Congress and winning a statewide election, Adam Putnam is only 39. Jeff Atwater could also be looking to move to higher office in 2018. It’s easy to picture some Florida Republicans in Congress running for the Senate or for governor in 2018 and some of them are still fairly young: Tom Rooney is 42 and Ron DeSantis is 35.
Weatherford has options for his political future but serving as Scott’s lieutenant governor isn’t one of them. Scott is still trailing in the polls and Weatherford would not want to be associated with the first Republican gubernatorial ticket to face defeat in 20 years. If Weatherford wants to keep a high profile, there are many better ways of doing it than being lieutenant governor. Only a few of the Florida politicians who were lieutenant governor had much of a future after serving in that post.
Granted, the choice makes sense for Scott. Weatherford would help reel in conservatives who might be unhappy with the governor, and he would offer some energy to the ticket. Weatherford could help Scott in Tampa Bay. Despite his youth, Weatherford has the qualifications to be governor and could clearly help push Scott’s agenda in the Legislature.
But if making Weatherford lieutenant governor makes sense for Scott, it makes little sense for the House speaker. Serving as lieutenant governor simply won’t help his political future.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.