Thursday, February 21, 2013

Weatherford raises national profile as distance grows between Gov. Scott and conservative grassroots

After a number of articles late last year describing Florida Speaker of the House Will Weatherford as a "rising star" who was following in Marco Rubio's footsteps, he officially took the reins as one of Florida's youngest Speakers with the beginning of the 2013 legislative session and has embarked on an ambitious agenda, including campaign finance and education reform.

This week included two important moments for Weatherford as he continues to raise his national profile.

First, after Governor Rick Scott announced yesterday he had changed his position on expanding Medicaid, Weatherford quickly issued a firm statement that while he "respected [the Governor's] thoughts," it was the Florida Legislature that would "make the ultimate decision" on the issue

Joining in strong criticism of the Governor were a long list of conservative organizations, including Americans for Prosperity, the CATO Institute, and the James Madison Institute. As Brandon Darby noted at, Scott "had previously been a champion of Tea party and conservative grassroots efforts to prevent the expansion of Medicaid in the state of Florida," an issue that "has been at the forefront of states’ efforts to stop the implementation of Obama’s health care initiatives." 

In other words, Scott's announcement yesterday was viewed as a betrayal by many of the conservatives who had supported his 2010 election, and now as the 2013 session continues to unfold, if there are any power struggles between the Governor's office and the Legislature, the Governor may find himself without allies. 

Weatherford was not alone in expressing disapproval of Scott's decision. This morning, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam posted on his Facebook page the following message:
It’s extremely disappointing to learn that Florida may take on billions in additional costs to taxpayers by expanding Medicaid coverage. The expansion of Medicaid is not an investment in our future, does not create jobs and does not strengthen our infrastructure. Furthermore, it is not free - it's expected to cost Floridians $5 billion over the next ten years.
Weatherford, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Putnam
at the Romney primary victory party in Tampa last year
Weatherford and Putnam's statements are also noteworthy in being rare examples of public disagreement with the Governor, who is expected to run for reelection in 2014. In fact, I cannot think of any other significant issue where the state's current top Republican elected officials have shown anything other than unity (publicly, anyway). 

Putnam and Weatherford, along with CFO Jeff Atwater, have frequently been mentioned as potential future gubernatorial candidates, and if this division continues, Scott may not only find himself facing increased challenges to pass his agenda this year, he may have an increased chance of facing an actual challenger in the 2014 Republican primary.

CPAC will provide an excellent opportunity for national political journalists and conservative bloggers to meet Weatherford, and I would expect him to receive a very positive reception, as he did at last year's RedState Gathering.

The only thing that stays the same about Florida politics is that it's always changing, and if distance continues to grow between the Governor and the state's conservative grassroots, we may see some very interesting shakeups over the next few years.

See also:

@WillWeatherford on Twitter.

Follow me on Twitter at @rumpfshaker

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