UPDATE: Weatherford endorsed former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
State Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sat down for a wide-ranging, one-hour conversation with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board this morning. The future House speaker has a busy summer going as he chairs the House redistricting committee and attends public hearings across the state. He covered a number of hot topics. Here are the highlights:
The redisctricting process: "It's putting a very complicated pie together that involves a lot of testimony, it involves a lot of law, federal law, state law, constitutional state provisions, case law, I mean, it’s a lot. And I had no idea what this was going to entail when I asked to be chairman of this committee."
Where will FL's new congressional seats be? "The two new seats … that’s probably further down the road in fall. I can tell you the greatest population increases have been I-4-based, really pretty much from Tampa to Orlando, the southwest Florida corridor, down there in Collier, Lee county … and then in northeast Florida, kind of between Jacksonville and Orlando, along that Palm Coast, I-95 corridor. Those are the three that have had the most. So we have two congressional seats, obviously, not three. I don’t know for sure, but my guess would be those are the areas with the most population, they could potentially be where a seat goes."
Getting lobbied by current members of Congress? "Yeah, I’ve had them call, 'Hey, how’s it going Mr. Chairman, what’s happening?’ All the sudden I’m a pretty popular guy to people who didn’t know who I was. I give them the same speech I give our members, which is, ‘Do me a favor, have your people come to hearings, we’d love to hear from you if you want to give us your opinion. But don’t talk to me about where you live, don’t talk to me about what your political agenda is. Talk about the communities of interest in your district, talk about how it can be more compact, talk about how it can follow geographic boundaries better. If your comments are tailored toward the district and not you, it’s okay. But anything you say to me can and will be used.' "
Gov. Rick Scott's low approval rating a concern for 2012? "I’m not concerned about it. I think it’s early. Just like when Gov. (Charlie) Crist in … 2008 his numbers were through the roof, I mean, absolutely through the roof and he got walloped in the polls. To me, if my election hinges upon the popularity of the governor, then I’m probably not a very good legislator for my district."
Endorsing for Republican presidential primary? "I'm flirting. I’d be jumping the gun if I told you. I have narrowed it down and there’s a couple that I really like and one in particular that I’m leaning toward. I’m not going to share it today because I’ll probably be coming out with something pretty soon. We’ll see." (Could it be Jon Huntsman? The former Utah governor is making several Tampa Bay area stops this weekend, perfect for an endorsement.)
What about FL's primary? “I think the goal is to be as close as we possibly can, hopefully like the fifth slot, without penalty. So we’re negotiating with the RNC as to how we get that done. There may be a penalty anyway, no matter what we do. ... but playing devil’s advocate, as Florida, if we were to go into it and say, okay, we’ll take the penalty, we’re going to go the Thursday before Super Tuesday … Let’s say they take away half of our delegates, they’re worth more than Iowa’s, New Hampshire’s and almost South Carolina’s combined.”
FL Senate race: Won't endorse before the Republican primary. Says all of the candidates are friends.
Asked if PSC was wronged: “Gov. (Charlie) Crist politicized the PSC. The PSC is supposed to be a quasi-judicial branch that is supposed to look at facts and figures and make a determination based on what is in front of them and what they know, not based on political pressure. Gov. Crist, who I still consider a friend of mine, he’s a nice guy, but he went out there and campaigned on lowering people’s rates, he was very consumer-friendly, he wanted to make sure that the PSC was always fighting back and not approving anything that he thought could potentially increase rates for consumers. Well that goes against what the whole PSC was supposed to be. The reason we created the PSC was to take politics out of the decision-making process and make it a judicial decision on facts. Gov. Crist was calling PSC commissioners and telling them how to vote, minutes before the vote, a couple years ago. And so he politicized it first and I think the reaction of the Legislature was to depoliticize it."
Open FL waters to oil exploration? "Not interested. We’ve had the debate. Not interested.”