At the outset of session I wrote a glowing piece about Speaker Will Weatherford, and his ability to transcend the petty partisanship that the Republican majority has inflicted on the legislative process since 1998. But Weatherford has gotten off to a bad start as Speaker, misrepresenting his family’s benefiting from the Medicaid program, speaking like a fire-eating right-winger at CPAC and palling around with lobbyists on private planes.
In retrospect, the expectations and hopes around Speaker Weatherford were too high and quite frankly unfair. At 33 years young and having advanced rapidly through the most ideologically conservative GOP caucus in history believing the Speaker would usher in a new era of civility, end the dogmatic right-wing rhetoric, and culture of entitlement that has permeated this GOP majority for years. This culture of entitlement has been furthered by a Democratic minority who has lacked cohesion and message discipline through the years, leaving the GOP as a virtually uncontested majority party.
When you rise as quickly and at as young an age as Weatherford a sense of entitlement is human nature. Even more importantly perhaps the media love affair with him fueled by the hope that he’d be different than his most immediate predecessors created some trouble within the GOP caucus. The Speaker facing a radical caucus with few, if any self-described moderates (something his father-in-law Allan Bense, the model GOP Speaker to date did not face) may have had to double-down on his conservative bonafides to keep his caucus united.
Another historical anecdote to consider is that of Senate President John McKay who turned out to be moderate bordering on liberal despite fears among the media and many Democrats/liberals that he would be most ideological Senate leader to that point. In fact, many felt the Democrats would have to create a coalition with some Republicans to elect a more moderate Senate President. As it turns out MacKay, with the exception of education issues governed more or less like a centrist Democrat for two years opposing the Governor and House under Tom Feeney at every turn. Sometimes past legislative history and statements fail to foretell how one will govern when they have the gavel and the power.
Weatherford is off to a rocky start, but perhaps too much was asked and expected of someone not yet capable of delivering. I still hold out hope he may be able to deliver what was promised in time.