Peter Schorsch: The Florida House and a shift in what Republicans are willing to take on

What’s going on in the Florida House? Republicans are pushing compassionate laws? Taking on issues that were once reserved for bleeding hearts on the Left? Huh?

First, there’s Speaker Will Weatherford, Republican beacon, staking firmly his position in favor of offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. Now, there’s state Rep. Matt Gaetz, no schlub in the conservative corner, bringing up that children suffering from horrible seizures could benefit from a non-euphoric strain of marijuana, dubbed “Charlotte’s Web.”

These issues, in the hands of leaders such as Weatherford or Gaetz, face far greater chances of success. They also point to a shift in what Republicans are willing to take on. And the dynamics underlying that are fairly unique.

Here is my take:

It is not that Weatherford or Gaetz, or the Republican Party, are embracing “liberal” stances for the purpose of electoral success. Neither Weatherford nor Gaetz would need such a boost. Nor is it that the Republican Party of Florida is asking the House for some “cover” so that Scott can look like a hero prior to 2014. It is clear where I would stand on that.

Rather, these issues and beliefs are ones that linger within the hearts and beliefs of many conservatives — who up until this point have been dissuaded by the ugly forces of campaign realities from vocalizing such stances.

The fear of being called a “RINO” (a Republican in name only) and earning a Tea Party-backed opponent are not small concerns for many.  But those fears are dissipating as it becomes clear that the true measure of leadership is the willingness to stand before your own supporters and voice what it is that makes sense to you, and why. Fearlessly.

That’s where Matt Gaetz stood last week, before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, urging support for the legalization of a non-euphoric derivative of medical marijuana called cannabidiol. This compound is found in marijuana and has demonstrably changed the lives of people with severe seizures — without relying on expensive drugs or suffering through their side effects. Cannabidiol is the second-most prevalent compound in marijuana, while the euphoria-producing THC is the compound recreational smokers seek the plant for.

One special strain of marijuana, called Charlotte’s Web, has naturally high levels of cannabidiol and very little THC, making it a particularly promising avenue for those needing such care.

Should governments ban a compound such as cannabidiol based on the reputation of the plant from which it comes?

To Rep. Gaetz, that position runs contrary to conservative principles.

And by voicing this, Gaetz demonstrated his willingness to put his own reputation on the line for what is the right thing to do.

Gaetz remained clear, however, that his measure is in no way a covert effort to introduce more flexible marijuana laws to Florida overall.  Gaetz does not support the proposed constitutional amendment on medical marijuana that would, in his view, open the door for the vague medicinal use of marijuana.

“I am going to ask Speaker Weatherford to approve a proposed committee bill that will contain this language for Charlotte’s Web,” Gaetz announced at the conclusion of the meeting, “so that these people do not have to be criminals.”

Gaetz did not come to this position overnight — in fact, he played out all of his reservations in public, asking proponents the toughest of questions. None of these questions went unanswered.

Members of Gaetz’s committee, including the most conservative among them, found hesitations quelled.

Like Weatherford with his arguments on tuition reform driven in equal parts by logic and compassion, Gaetz has taken on an issue that few would dare own.

This isn’t politicking. It is just old-fashioned, fearless leadership.

This is a quality rarely seen these days. And if more Republican leaders in the Florida Legislature gain such confidence alongside Weatherford and Gaetz, the other side of the aisle may be left wondering whether there are still issues they are intrinsically entitled to own.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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