Former Orlando Chief of Police Val Demings is raising the heat on embattled incumbent Dan Webster and riding a wave of positive momentum — releasing two new TV ads this week hammering Webster for accepting lobbyist funded trips to Key Largo, distributing a “watch list” of constituents and even constructing a “lobbyist lounge” in the Florida capital when he was speaker — prompting the Orlando Sentinel to write that “Demings has early advertising edge over Webster” and raising serious questions about whether national Republicans will come to Webster’s defense.
Webster, who has been hammered over the past several months for his disturbing lack of engagement with his constituents and a pattern of absence from the district, has plenty more baggage that may be scaring his party away from this race: including spending over $31,000 to construct a private staircase which allowed him to “escape” from reporters and his constituents.
There are plenty of jokes we could make about Webster and the secret staircase — but really there’s nothing funny about Websters’ disturbing and out of touch behavior, and Webster is in serious trouble.
Webster Installed $31,000 Staircase in Speaker’s Office. In his first few months of being Speaker, Webster had a spiral staircase built leading from his Speaker’s office down to the majority leader’s office one floor below. The staircase cost taxpayers $31,983, and allowed Webster to “escape” from reporters and other visitors. “The speaker said it was impossible to get work done there,” Majority leader Rep. Jim King said. “We have an office for him here.” The staircase was part of $100,000 the Speaker was using to renovate House offices. [Tampa Tribune; 2/25/97; Miami Herald, 2/13/97]
Webster Earmarked $100,000 for Office Renovations. When he became House Speaker, Webster earmarked $100,000 for remodeling House offices, including a $30,000 spiral staircase down which “he can traipse merrily to the third-floor majority office.” Webster pointed out that his predecessor spent $2 million for renovations during his term. “God forbid that either of them had moved into whatever office was provided, sat down on whatever chair happened to be in front of the desk and applied themselves to the job they are being paid to do,” the paper wrote. “For those who are doing the spending, it’s either exotic shores, first-class travel and five-star hotels or carpet samples, drapery swatches and plumbing fixtures.” [Sun-Sentinel, Editorial, 2/26/97]
Webster Has Drawn Heat for not engaging with his constituents. “Democrats are crying foul over a private town hall meeting that U.S. Rep. Dan Webster held Monday with Tea Party activists in Orlando, criticizing the rookie Republican for not taking time to meet with the general public instead […] Town hall meetings have been a touchy subject for Webster since one session in April erupted into bedlam as participants turned the affair into a shouting match over federal spending and priorities. And this summer, Webster took some heat for distributing material to other members of Congress that included a watch list of six Central Floridians who spoke at his town halls” [Orlando Sentinel, 11/30/11]
Webster has acknowledged his “rare” public appearances. “An invitation to Monday’s event appears to acknowledge such history: ‘This is a rare appearance for the Congressman to appear on the East Side of Orlando.’” [Orlando Sentinel, 11/30/11]
Webster sent out a “watch list” of constituents he was afraid of seeing at his Town Hall. “Instead, the material distributed by the Winter Garden Republican’s office this spring has created a stir of its own because it included a watch list of six Central Floridians — with names and multiple photographs — who spoke at Webster town halls earlier this year.” [Orlando Sentinel, 8/18/11]
Webster Received Over $80,000 from Lobbyists. Since 2009, Webster has received $81,323 from lobbyists. He has received $27,964 from lawyer and lobbyists PACs. [Open Secrets, accessed 9/13/12]
Webster Received Over $30,000 from the Oil and Gas Industry. Since 2009, Webster has received $30,500 from the oil and gas industry. [Open Secrets, accessed 9/13/12]