When Will Weatherford first ran for office in 2006, his name didn't even appear on the ballot.
Pasco County Republican leaders chose him to run in the place of state Rep. Ken Littlefield, who dropped his re-election bid after Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him to the Public Service Commission.
Back then, if voters knew Will Weatherford it was as the older brother of Florida State University quarterback Drew Weatherford.
Today, Will Weatherford is the famous one, having taken his place in November as the latest speaker of the state House of Representatives. At 33, he is one of the youngest people ever to hold that office.
"To me, he's 33 going on 53. He's mature beyond his years," said former House Speaker Allan Bense, who also happens to be Weatherford's father-in-law.
Weatherford worked for Bense after graduating from Jacksonville University. He started as a field organizer, then became a member of the speaker's policy "war room."
"He understands public policy," Bense said.
Weatherford will need that maturity and that grasp of policy as he enters his first session in the speaker's chair. When the Legislature convenes in March, Weatherford will guide the House to:
There's also the task of passing a state budget, the only activity the Legislature absolutely must do each term. With a small budget surplus on the horizon, that should be easier for Weatherford than for his deficit-plagued predecessors.
Not that he's taking those surplus predictions for granted.
"One bad month can turn it around," Weatherford said last week.
Weatherford's term will be different from his recent predecessors in another way. There will be more Democrats.
November's election added six more Democrats to the House, breaking the supermajority that gave Republicans unfettered ability to pass legislation.
"That in itself is why we're hopeful for more bipartisanship," said Minority Leader Perry Thurston Jr. of Fort Lauderdale.
The bump in Democrats came in part from Weatherford's own work redrawing the state's legislative districts after the 2010 census.
That map put about a third of the House's 120 members either out of their districts completely or into competition with another member, Weatherford said.
"It was about a maturation process for me politically," he said.
Thurston said Weatherford's redistricting effort showed his sense of fairness and his willingness to listen to all sides.
"If that is any signal of what the session holds, that will be a positive thing," Thurston said.
Thurston hopes Weatherford shows the same sense of fairness toward Democratic legislation, letting bills come to the floor regardless of the final outcome.
"If they're bad ideas, they can vote them down," Thurston said. "The important thing is that we have a chance to air our ideas and be heard."
Weatherford said he's not writing off Democratic legislation out of hand.
"Their bills will be given equal opportunity for passage, but they have to file a bill within the policy of the majority," he said. "If they're real solution-oriented bills, we want those ideas to be heard."
Besides, if Weatherford handles his Democratic colleagues too roughly, he could have to answer to a higher power — his grandmother.
Carolyn Warner, Weatherford's maternal grandmother, is part of the Democratic Party's leadership in Arizona, where she was elected education commissioner and ran for governor.
Warner was on hand last month when Weatherford became speaker. She gave him the wooden gavel her father, Uriah T. Rexroat, had wielded as an Oklahoma legislator nearly a century ago.
"Our family is committed to public service," Warner said last week.
Weatherford called his grandmother for advice as he considered continuing that family legacy in 2006. She encouraged him to run.
"Nobody could have arranged this," she told him at the time. "It's something you must do — so long as you keep your head about you and keep your values."
The Tribune is profiling five people in government, education and business who are likely to help bring change to the Tampa area in 2013. They are community activist Kevin Thurman of Tampa, Clearwater singer Juliet Simms, Hillsborough school board member April Griffin, Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN Inc. in St. Petersburg, and state House Speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel.
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville University
Occupation: Marketing and business consulting
Experience: Aide to Speaker Allan Bense, 2003-05; elected to House from Wesley Chapel in 2006; re-elected three times.
Family: Wife, Courtney; daughters Ella, 4; Molly, 3; Madelyn, 3 months
Quote: "My job is not to listen to any one group as the sole proprietor of information."