The national news has been filled with headlines about who has NOT been invited to CPAC (aka Chris Christie whose record as NJ Governor is actually quite conservative) but it is noteworthy for us here in that Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford has been selected to speak. Weatherford who portrays a less threatening and more responsible image of a House Speaker than the majority of his predecessors, is being labeled a “Rising Star” by CPAC. That description is appropriate for someone who very well could be one of the most formidable politicians in the state over the coming decade.
Dan Webster the first Republican House Speaker since Reconstruction was too extreme on social issues and didn’t have a large majority to maneuver with. John Thrasher was ruthlessly effective and determined to “de-fund” the left by pushing through Tort Reform measures at all costs as well as various measures that imperiled unions. While that made a him a great partisan figure it did not make him a statewide candidate. Tom Feeney and Johnnie Byrd were both ideologically motivated and unable to communicate externally in a way that built support for Republican politics or consensus among opinion leaders in the state. Byrd’s quixotic Senate run in 2004 demonstrated his polarizing nature even rubbed Republicans the wrong way. Marco Rubio has gone on to great stardom, but he wasn’t as politically skilled as Weatherford and was far more petty and partisan. Larry Cretul was hardly effective and Dean Cannon’s manner led to easy press opportunities for the Democrats.
Democrats must be weary of Weatherford for he has the political talent and savvy. He is much like the one very effective Republican Speaker of the past, his father-in-law Allan Bense who worked well with Democrats where needed but also was able to push partisan and ideologically motivated legislation without creating the ripples other House Speakers have. Bense was a “kinder, gentler” leader particularly coming after the rude and offensive Byrd. Weatherford has inherited a polarized House that has been beset by scandals involving GOP members and a Democratic caucus that has lacked strong partisan/ideological leadership in recent sessions. Democratic leaders have often preferred to roll over on key issues leaving those few strong progressive warriors abandoned , rather than fight the Republicans.
Weatherford is a formidable and likable figure who cuts a very different image than most Republicans in Florida. CPAC, which is always on the cutting edge of Republican politics nationally has wisely recognized his potential. Democrats would be wise to realize they are going up against someone with lots of talent and statewide elected potential.