The Benses treated Weatherford like family. He lived in a garage apartment behind their home.
There, he met Bense’s daughter, Courtney.
Courtney at first regarded Weatherford as a family friend. Then her mom organized a movie night for the entire family. At the last minute, everyone canceled — except for Will and Courtney.
“I think that was planned,” she says now.
After a dinner at Outback, the two watched The Day after Tomorrow, a disaster movie about climate change. They then spent two hours talking on the Bense front porch.
“I said we were going to take it nice and slow,” Courtney said. “Then we saw each other every day after that.”
The two married in June 2006. Then making $45,000 as Bense’s legislative aide, Weatherford had more than $106,000 in his bank account, according to a financial disclosure he filed with the state. Weatherford said that was money Courtney brought into the marriage from a condo sale.
Soon after his wedding, his parents’ marriage fell apart.
On Aug. 2, 2006, Cathy Weatherford called deputies and told them that her husband had tried to slam a door on her. She was pinned, and her neck and left ankle were injured. Bill Weatherford was charged with domestic battery. A week later, she filed a restraining order, saying she was afraid he would attack her when he was released from jail.
She said her husband wanted $10,000 from her to put in an account she wouldn’t be able to access. Making only $289 a week working at a local furniture store, she couldn’t afford it.
With his parents’ marriage in doubt, Weatherford suddenly was headed back to Pasco, where he’d get a little help from his powerful father-in-law.
The September 2006 announcement that incumbent state Rep. Ken Littlefield was leaving his seat to join the state’s Public Service Commission sent the Pasco County GOP into a mild panic.
Republicans had less than a week to find a replacement, and they would have to win with Littlefield’s name remaining on the November ballot.
There was no shortage of local contenders. And then there was Weatherford, a 26-year-old who hadn’t lived in Pasco since he graduated high school.
“One of the first calls I got was from Allan Bense,” said Rep. Mike Fasano, who was then a state senator who knew the committee board members who would decide.
Fasano said he knew of Weatherford, but only in passing.
The chairman of Pasco’s GOP, Bill Bunting, favored another candidate. Bense called Bunting, too. “I didn’t know Will,” Bunting said. “But I knew the father-in-law.”
In late September, the committee made its selection at an Orlando hotel. Bunting says he first made a motion for his candidate, a Dade City businessman, but it wasn’t given a second.
The committee then selected Weatherford unanimously.
Bense downplayed his role. “Will was my son-in-law,” Bense said. “I love him. I’m sure I called those people to see if I could get their vote. Any dad or father-in-law would do that.”
In the general election, Weatherford faced someone his own age: 26-year-old Donovan Brown, a Zephyrhills insurance agent who, during the home stretch of the campaign, was hospitalized for a bipolar disorder.
While Democrats didn’t give Brown any money, Republicans contributed $70,000 to Weatherford. He outraised Brown 575-to-1. His campaign mailers highlighted Brown’s opposition to jail time for people caught possessing small amounts of marijuana.