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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Weatherford still coy on what's next

— Over scrambled eggs, turkey sausage and thin slices of broiled tomato — “That's breakfast when I'm thinking about trying to be fit,” says Will Weatherford — the ever-so-lame-duck speaker of the state House of Representatives was, Tuesday, equally low-cal regarding a broad range of topics, not least of all the one subject on which he is the unchallenged expert: What's next?

If Weatherford knows, he's not saying. Why would he? Weatherford is the rare young man with almost limitless options, one of The Washington Post's just-announced “40 Under 40” whose eligibility for membership in the up-and-comers club won't expire with his next birthday.

Eight years in the Legislature — just about the right length of time for anyone, he says — rewards the attentive with what Weatherford calls “a Ph.D. in Florida,” but he's officially coy about his plans for its application. That didn't stop the Post from forecasting a run for statewide office as soon as 2016 — a domino that teeters on U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's White House ambitions — but no later than 2018, when Republicans will seek a nominee for governor.

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At 34, with three young daughters in a Southern Living-designed house and wife, Courtney, anticipating delivery of the couple's first son before Labor Day, Weatherford is content just now in the role of decompressing homebody, declaring domestic bliss pivots on “quantity time, not quality time.”

As a result, the Weatherford name will appear on no ballot this year, not even as a candidate to replace state GOP cChairman Lenny Curry, said to be planning a run for mayor of Jacksonville. Instead, he forecasts a summer of reflecting and sifting interspersed with rallying on behalf of Republican candidates, including his preferred successor: lawyer, U.S. Army reservist and former Zephyrhills Mayor Danny Burgess.

Otherwise, he says he's looking for something “entrepreneurial” in the private sector, regaining the path he abandoned when events swept him into the Legislature in 2006. “I never expected to be elected to office at 26,” he says. “I always thought” — with his boss (and father-in-law), then-Speaker Allan Bense term-limited out of Tallahassee — “I'd start and run my own business.”

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Whatever it turns out to be, you wouldn't expect Weatherford's new venture to encounter many closed doors. After all, he has that unofficial Ph.D. going for him, plus a resume of legislative achievement that virtually defines conservatism — lower and fewer taxes; more K-12 private school vouchers; ethics, elections and education reform; affirmation of gun rights; refusing Medicaid expansion under Obamacare as bad medicine and worse economics — except when it doesn't; in-state college tuition for certain people living in the U.S. illegally.

After all, what good is a politician without a good change-up?

But now Weatherford will be that rarest of politicians: one without an Election Day on his calendar.

Part of him — the part that admired how Bense eased out of public life, went home to Panama City and never looked back — thinks he could get used to life apart from campaigns and governing.

The difference is, Bense was 55 when he was termed-out, and it's not as if anybody keeps a “60 Under 60” list. It has to be harder to turn your back when you've been named a hot property at 34. So we'll see, knowing, as he does, Weatherford's next choice is one he'll have to wear the next time he's in the arena.

“I don't claim to be an expert in any one thing,” Weatherford says, “but I do know Florida, its regions, its people; what works and what doesn't; why what's right for Miami isn't necessarily right for Pensacola.

“Whatever I do, Florida will be in the heart of it.”

Well. As the networks say at the half-hour break, stay tuned.

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