Politics in Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford's Blood


Will Weatherford, 33, is one of the youngest House speakers in Florida history. (STEVE CANNON | AP PHOTO)

Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 1:50 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE | It took Will Weatherford 10 years to catapult from political novice to one of Florida's most influential legislators. An untested $22,000-a-year campaign worker fresh out of college a decade ago, Weatherford, 33, is now one of the youngest House speakers in the state's history.

Weatherford began his political journey after graduating from Jacksonville University by helping former state Rep. Allan Bense pick up support in his successful campaign to become House speaker. Weatherford then joined Bense as a legislative aide handling constituency issues and married the speaker's daughter along the way.

But, his father-in-law points out, Weatherford earned his spurs on his own.

"He is much, much smarter on public policy issues than I was," said Bense, who was speaker from 2004 to 2006. "He's in Jeb's (former Gov. Jeb Bush) league in terms of details on public policy. He (Weatherford) can debate points I wouldn't even think about. It's uncanny."

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, first caught Bense's eye during his final year at Jacksonville where he was a football teammate of Bense's son, Jason.

"Within a minute after meeting him, I said to myself, ‘This guy has got potential,' " recalled Bense.

Maybe more than Bense first knew: It wasn't long before Weatherford and Bense's daughter, Courtney, started dating. They married in 2006 and now have three daughters under the age of 5.

"I couldn't ask for a better son-in-law."

Or one who shares his love for politics.

In Weatherford's case, politics has been in his blood since childhood. His grandmother, Carolyn Warner, ran for governor in Arizona where she is a longtime Democratic activist and one-time the state's superintendent of schools. Her father, Weatherford's great grandfather, was a state senator in Oklahoma.

The new Florida speaker can actually trace his ancestry back to William Weatherford, known as Chief Red Eagle in the Creek Indian tribe. He negotiated a peace treaty with Col. Andrew Jackson in the early part of the 19th century following battles in parts of Alabama and Florida.

Weatherford lists "faith, family and football," as his priorities in life. He and all six younger brothers played college football at varying levels. One, Drew Weatherford, was the starting quarterback at Florida State for three years. Their youngest brother, Peter, was just 2 when he died of cancer.

While Will Weatherford's political philosophy is largely a result of his formative years under his mother Cathy Weatherford's tutelage, he credits his legislative style to observing Bense.

"People rarely remember what you do or what you say, but they remember how you treat them," Weatherford said. "He made sure people knew that he cared about them."

The Texas-born, home-schooled Weatherford formally became speaker in November. The youngest speaker was the late Doyle Conner, who was elected at the age of 28 in 1958.

Bense said he seldom offers advice to his son-in-law on legislatives issues.

"It's his time and he'll do well," said Bense, a Panama City businessman and chairman of the Florida State University's Board of Trustees. "His compass is pointed in the right direction."

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