“Don’t let our values go to pot,” the mailer stated, with Brown’s face printed on a marijuana leaf.
“You’re wondering why we popped him?” Weatherford says. “That’s a really good question. I took a lot of heat back home for it.”
Without his name on the ballot, Weatherford explained, he had to go negative or his district ran the risk of electing someone being treated for a mental disorder.
Brown finished the race at his mother’s home, far from the campaign trail. Littlefield’s name collected more than 60 percent of the vote. Weatherford won.
More than a week after the election, his mother filed for divorce. She would later drop it, but Weatherford’s parents remain separated.
In three months, Weatherford went from legislative aide to lawmaker to speaker-in-waiting.
Florida House members typically elect speakers serving their fourth and final two-year term. Weatherford was counting votes in 2006 for an office he’d take over in late 2012.
“Will was the fastest to date,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Pasco County Republican who is in line to become speaker in 2016.
Meanwhile, Weatherford and Courtney built their home in 2007 in Wesley Chapel with the help of $239,200 in cash. As a lawmaker, Weatherford was only making $31,536 a year, and Courtney had quit her job as a lobbyist when her father was House speaker.
Where did the young couple get that much cash? More help from Bense.
“He knows I’m constrained,” Weatherford said. “We’re very blessed that (Courtney) has parents who have been very helpful.”
Weatherford still needed to borrow $358,000 for the home, and he got two jobs to help make the $2,005 monthly mortgage payments.
The first job came through his aunt’s husband, who hired him as a business development consultant for Breckenridge Enterprises. Weatherford said he “helps build relationships” so the Dallas company can find construction jobs in Florida. He makes about $50,000 a year.
Weatherford’s second job is for state Sen. Wilton Simpson, also of Pasco County. Simpson hired him as a business consultant at about $30,000 a year.
Weatherford, who has a bachelor’s degree in international business, has been drumming up prospects for Simpson’s asbestos removal company since 2007.
“I help him develop private clients,” Weatherford said. Asked how many clients he got Simpson last year, Weatherford said “I don’t know. I don’t have any of that data. You’d have to ask him. But I’ve added value to them.”
Simpson, however, said he didn’t keep track and couldn’t provide a precise number. “We’re a private business doing private business,” he said.
Simpson also appointed Weatherford to the board of Florida Traditions Bank, where he owns $30,000 in bank shares. Weatherford said he paid for the shares himself.
Democrats didn’t oppose Weatherford’s re-election in 2008, and he still raised $214,000. When he did face opposition in 2010, he raised nearly $1 million. Weatherford won 66 percent of the vote.
Last year, he was re-elected without opposition while sitting on a warchest of $427,000.
“I’ve never been ashamed to ask people for big checks,” he said.
Raising money can be tricky, though. Weatherford was involved in a fundraising campaign committee with Rep. Ray Sansom, who was forced to resign as House speaker in 2009 after prosecutors alleged Sansom secured millions of tax dollars for a local college that later offered him a job. A developer at the heart of the scandal contributed $100,000 to the committee, which Weatherford closed after Sansom’s resignation.
“I wasn’t happy about it,” Weatherford said, adding he only learned about the committee after the fact. The money was raised by what’s known as a “committee of continuous existence,” or CCE. Last year, Weatherford was embarrassed when another CCE he helped raise money for compared a Democratic state House candidate, Karen Castor Dentel, to disgraced Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky.
Eliminating that kind of committee is now one of Weatherford’s top priorities.
Castor Dentel said she’s not sure it will make a difference.
“That’s not the problem,”she said. “It’s the culture of campaigns that you win at all costs. Any cost. Whatever it takes.”
Weatherford stands atop a political system that rewards those who win doing whatever it takes. He’s gotten there by going negative when he thought it was necessary, aggressively raising big campaign cash, and espousing some of his party’s most hard-edged positions.
What sets him apart is that he still comes across as extraordinarily likable.
In a video made for the Capitol Press Corps Skits, Weatherford lampooned his image as a jock by donning a Jacksonville University football jersey. He got big laughs when he made an exaggerated reach for a water bottle, a la Rubio.
At 6-feet, 1-inch and 205 pounds, Weatherford moves about the Capitol with ease, bro-hugging and high-fiving Republicans and Democrats alike.
“If I had to stack up the House speakers that I’ve known, and we had to choose the most popular, it would be Will Weatherford,” says Corcoran. “He has an ability to make you feel great.”
With a net worth that he lists at nearly $300,000, Weatherford has unlimited options ahead. He’s been dubbed the Paul Ryan of Florida and is talked about in political circles as a future governor or senator.
Asked if he’ll challenge Scott in 2014, Weatherford laughs.
“Well, I’ll let other people look at that,” he said, refusing to indulge in speculation. “Being speaker of the House is hard enough.”
Raising a family with three daughters under the age of 5, Weatherford says he’s trying to figure it all out like the rest of us. He has got everyday worries, like the dream house he bought and built with Courtney.
“The guy building it said this house will be worth $1 million in five years,” Weatherford said as he bounced his baby daughter, Madelyn, on his lap. “And five years later it’s worth $400,000. That’s just life, you know?”
Tampa Bay Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.