Still, Weatherford’s persona as a kinder, gentler House Republican suffered throughout the session, usually because of his own doing. On the first day of session, he incorrectly described the role Medicaid played in helping his family. A week later, while at the American Conservative Union’s Political Action Conference in Washington, he called the Affordable Health Care Act “cartel federalism” that “coerced” states into expanding Medicaid. On March 19, he gave a speech to tea party Republicans where he claimed that America is less free than it was four years ago while referring to President Barack Obama as the “occupier of the White House.”
Speeches like that, and his stance on Medicaid, only won him raves from the right.
“I give him high marks,” said Slade O’Brien, Florida director for Americans for Prosperity. “He was willing to be bold on Medicaid expansion and pension reform, and he held his position. That only improves his stature with us.”
The pension changes died in the Senate, as did the “parent-trigger” proposal for Florida schools.
On thing conservatives may not like: the state’s $74.5 billion budget. It’s dotted with pet projects, including $7 million for a Pasco-Hernando Community College campus in Weatherford’s Wesley Chapel district.
“Hopefully, some of those will be struck out,” O’Brien said.
Weatherford did not allow a vote on the final day of the session that would have possibly funded $350 million in taxpayer upgrades to Sun Life Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins. O’Brien cheered Weatherford’s decision to kill it, calling it corporate welfare. The Dolphins owner, however, slammed Weatherford, saying he had betrayed an earlier promise.
Not so, said Weatherford.
“I’m fine with him blaming me,” he said Monday. “But that’s not true. Neither I nor the House made any commitment to him.”
Weatherford also defended a future tax break for Bloom Energy, a Sunnyvale, Calif. clean technology company that manufactures fuel cells. One of the company’s lobbyists, Towson Fraser, used to work with Weatherford when the two were aides for former House Speaker Allan Bense. Bense is now Weatherford’s father-in-law. Weatherford said he wasn’t lobbied by Fraser, and said if knowing him was grounds for being unable to lobby the Legislature, Tallahassee would be a ghost town.
“I have a lot of long-standing relationships,” he said.
House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, who along with Fullwood were among only 10 of 43 Democrats to vote against the budget, said he still gets along with Weatherford. That’s perhaps why he can’t understand the speaker’s unyielding position on issues like Medicaid and pensions.
“That’s the question of the day,” Thurston said. “Are his positions designed to attract the tea party or was this a tactical mistake? If he wants to cater to the right wing of the party, then he did a good job this session.”
Herald/Times staff writer Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report. Contact Michael Van Sickler at (850) 224-7263.