TALLAHASSEE -- The day before he takes over the reins of the Florida House, incoming Speaker Will Weatherford told fellow Republican colleagues Monday to hold strong to what they believe is true.
“Fear is sometimes masked as partisanship, sometimes it’s masked as politics, but political fear, fear of what someone will do if you vote a particular way, what someone will say, what a lobbyist will say, fear is what’s broken Washington D.C.,” Weatherford told the 76-member Republican caucus, just moments after it unanimously nominated him for the speaker’s job. “Fear is what has put America where it is today. We will not lead with fear.”
His words of encouragement came after Republicans lost five seats in the house, the super-majority status that it enjoyed, and Weatherford’s successor as speaker in 2014, Rep. Chris Dorworth, who lost a shocking battle for reelection.
Weatherford congratulated the caucus for agreeing on Dorworth’s replacement, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, with little melodrama.
“We could have fought, we could have scratched, we could have argued over who’s going to have power and who’s not, who’s going to be the speaker, who’s not,” Weatherford said. “We didn’t do that, we defied all the odds, we supported a man who I think will be a great speaker of the house.”
For a man often credited with being bipartisan, he challenged the Republicans to stick to their core principles and to be loyal to each other – all of which could make compromise with the 44 Democrats difficult.
“I expect you to make your decisions whether I agree or disagree with them, based on principle,” Weatherford said. “If you are standing on principle, you’ll always be standing on solid ground. You’ll always have the underpinnings that will protect you if you are basing it on principle, not politics. I expect you to be loyal, not to me, but to each other. This is a family. We are in this together. And I expect you to treat each other like a family and to be loyal to each other.”
He called the Republicans a “New Spirit of 76”.
“It will be a spirit of resolve, a spirit of freedom, and a spirit of courage,” he said. “You are part of a family. Tomorrow, the whole family will get together. But you are the nucleus.”
Minutes later, Weatherford’s counterpart, Perry Thurston, the incoming minority leader, told the 44 members of the Democratic caucus that they were “Soul of the Legislature.”
“We will continue to stand up for our unions, we will continue to stand up for every day men and women across Florida working hard every day to make a living,” Thurston said before accepting his nomination as speaker. “We’re going to be here. And we are going to ready to fight. We’re going to be here for Floridians, to move this state in the right direction.”
Thurston braced the caucus for the setbacks ahead.
“We are going to be the loyal opposition,” Thurston said. “Yes, our numbers have increased. Yes, we’re going to be more effective in the House of Representatives.
“We won a lot of debates, a lot of debates, where we wound up losing the vote,” Thurston said, citing their opposition to HB 1355 that limited early voting hours, among other changes. “That will continue to happen, not as much, but that will continue to happen.”
Thurston is expected to cede the speaker’s job to Weatherford in Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony, but with a resurgent Democratic Party, the Republicans will have to contend with a more organized opposition.
As Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, said Monday in introducing Weatherford, his “Mr. Nice Guy label” may be fleeting.
“That too shall pass,” Hooper said.