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Weatherford v. Gaetz in immigration feud reflects broader GOP divide

Geatz and WeatherfordSenate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford stood before the conservative James Madison Institute last week and offered up their view of the world.

Gaetz, who at age 66 is nearly twice as old as Weatherford, seeded his talk with quips about the “communists” in the Democratic Party and the untrustworthy ways of the “liberal media.” Weatherford, 34, was a 10-year-old when the Berlin Wall fell and grew up long after the communist threat. He spoke of his hope for the Republican Party, and urged the crowd to be bolder and more compassionate.

“The state of Florida is changing, the demographics of this state and, as conservatives and people who believe in free enterprise, our message has to be a little bit stronger and maybe a little bit more inviting,’’ Weatherford said. His greatest regret, he added: “We don’t do a good job of fighting for people who are stuck in generational poverty.’’

Florida’s two Republican presiding officers not only represent the Legislature’s two chambers, they are a reflection of the generational and ideological differences that make up today’s Republican Party. As legislators enter the final week of the session, those differences will be manifest in the debate over the most divisive issue this session — whether to extend in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants.

Weatherford, the second oldest of nine children who once credited society’s “safety net” for helping his struggling family, has spearheaded the bill as a “fundamental element of our American character that we don’t punish children for mistakes made by their parents.”

But for him, it is more than an issue of fairness, it is also practical politics.

“As a policymaker, it’s my job to help foster upward mobility through higher education by making a university degree more accessible for all of Florida’s children,’’ he wrote in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times before session began.

For Gaetz, a self-made millionaire who founded the nation’s first for-profit hospice chain, the proposal, SB 1400, is too broad, and too dangerous.

“It casts a blanket of approval over non-citizens who are in this country without proper legal status from anywhere in the world, including countries which are caldrons of terrorism and anti-American violence,” Gaetz wrote in an email this month to constituents.  Our story here.

Photo: Associated Press

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