At age 33, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) isn’t much older than the Palm Beach Atlantic University student leaders who attended the address he gave to invited guests at University’s Warren Library on Monday.
He called on those students to begin making a difference now. “I believe that young people today have a responsibility to engage in government,” he said, speaking in the library’s Lassiter Rotunda as part of Palm Beach Atlantic’s LeMieux Center for Public Policy lecture series. “I don’t really care what level it is. You don’t have to be elected to office to be a public servant.”
|Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, left, leads a question-and-answer session with Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford in the Lassiter Rotunda of the Warren Library at Palm Beach Atlantic University on Monday. Sen. LeMieux's senatorial papers are housed at the library.|
Rep. Weatherford added that in addition to leaders, “we need people who will follow and join” the movements and causes they support.
During the 50-minute presentation, which concluded with a question-and-answer session led by former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, Rep. Weatherford addressed a wide range of issues, from the economy to education to the situation in Syria.
While unemployment in Florida is on a downward trend, he said he sees the situation of “generational poverty” continuing. He said he doesn’t believe the solution is more entitlement programs.
“Government is the one that is causing this havoc on our people,” he said. “I believe government is one of the larger contributors to generational poverty.”
Instead, he proposed the combination of developing an “unbelievably 21st century-based, high standards education system that is second to none” and embracing the American free enterprise system.
“You can’t do one without the other,” he said. “You can’t have a free society of people who aren’t educated, and you can’t have a bunch of folks who have a great education but don’t have the political system and structure there to support it.”
As an example, he cited nighttime satellite images of the Korean peninsula. The images depict lighted cities in South Korea and darkness in the north. He said education and free enterprise are what make the difference.
|View the video of Speaker Weatherford's remarks. He is intoduced by PBA President William M.B. Fleming Jr. and former U.S. Senator George LeMieux.|
Despite the challenges of poverty, pensions and healthcare reform, Rep. Weatherford believes that Florida has many things in its favor, including a steady increase in the graduation rate and an influx of new residents at the rate of 1,000 a day.
“I believe Florida has a chance to build a pocket of personal and economic freedom,” he said.
During the question-and-answer period, Rep. Weatherford addressed Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which came under attack following the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford in 2012. Rep. Weatherford , a supporter of the Second Amendment and of Stand Your Ground, has called for a hearing to review the law.
“Because of the sensitivity to this issue, because of the outcry from both sides, I thought it was worthy of having a debate,” he said. “But we also want to try to do it in a non racially charged environment. We want to have a real conversation about the law with facts with figures and not one that is driven by emotion.”
He also responded to a question about the crisis in Syria, saying that President Barak Obama should have acted sooner, and that the U.S.’s potential involvement now has become politicized. He noted that the president has been making his case on several talk shows today and will address the American public on Tuesday.
“I really believe that Congress and their decision will be heavily weighted on his ability to deliver the reasons for why this is necessary,” he said.
In addition, he added that the U.S. should look out for the best interests of its ally, Israel.
Sen. LeMieux, when asked the same question by Rep. Weatherford, said that if he were still in the Senate he would support the use of force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, but was vocal in his opposition to President Obama’s actions to this point.
“It was as badly handled by this president as any president has ever handled an issue,” Sen. LeMieux said.
The speaker also was asked about his future plans after his term in the House is up. The father of three said he preferred to keep his options open and to rely on God's guidance. He added that “public service is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”