'Animal House' antics by GOP of Florida at conference
It was the sort of rowdy gathering that Sens. Edward Kennedy and Chris Dodd might have enjoyed in their skirt-chasing partying days. Except this party or "retreat" at a swanky hotel - paid for by the Republican Party of Florida - was for the benefit of Republican lawmakers. And to the outrage of House Speaker Will Weatherford, some of those public servants behaved like the denizens of the infamous Delta Tau Chi in the movie "Animal House."
Now the 33-year-old Whetherford - the youngest speaker in years - has issued a public apology to fellow Republicans while trying to get to the bottom of who did what at Disney World's most upscale hotel and resort.
As the Miami Herald reports:
Weatherford said he's still trying to learn what happened, but was concerned enough about reports of rowdiness that he apologized to members the next day and warned he could not condone "unruly behavior."
The outing began the Tuesday night after Thanksgiving at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, the priciest hotel at the theme park with rooms that fetch up to $700 a night. Paid for by the Republican Party of Florida, it was part of a traditional retreat to salute new leaders of the House after an election.
"I believe each member has the personal responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner that honors their community and the House of Representatives," Weatherford said in a statement. "There are special considerations when dealing with matters that are part of private conduct. When I was made aware of situations that reflected upon the House, I dealt with the matters swiftly according to the verified facts."
But efforts to determine what happened and who was involved have been hampered by contradictory statements and fading memories.
The incident began when several lawmakers went to the hotel's front desk and tried to get a key to the room of Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami.
When a clerk refused, one lawmaker reportedly put a $20 bill on the counter. Weatherford said he has been unable to determine who was there.
Oliva said he went to bed early, turned off his phone and was not aware until the next morning that lawmakers were trying to get cigars he had in his room.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said he was with a group of lawmakers who stopped at the front desk after dinner. He said someone in the group asked the clerk about getting a cigar from Oliva's room.
"The entire thing lasted five minutes," Gaetz said. "Nothing inappropriate happened. It happened three weeks ago and I don't remember it."
Pressed to identify others in the group, Gaetz resisted. Asked what happened after someone asked for a cigar, he said, "Look, man, I don't precisely recall."
Disney officials declined to comment.
"There were rumors of misbehavior, or at least loud and unbecoming behavior of members," Weatherford said. "I dealt with it in front of the entire membership, telling them we were there to work and I expected better from them. I didn't mention names because I didn't know who was involved.''
As the conference ended, Weatherford said he heard additional allegations of drinking and misbehavior at the front desk but is still trying to identify who was involved and what happened.
"I'm not dropping it,'' Weatherford said.
The article goes on in that vein, while also pointing out that Rep. Mike Horner, a Republican from Kissimmee, "abruptly resigned his seat in September following reports that he was a client at a brothel." And most recently the "Commission on Ethics said it found probable cause to charge Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, for failing to properly disclose his personal finances from 2008 to 2011."
Well, good for Whetherford (see profile, here) who is setting a good example to lawmakers of all political stripes. And let's hope The Herald - which endorsed Obama for president - pursues misconduct by Democratic lawmakers as gleefully as it's now spotlighting Republican misbehavior.