Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Speaker's Views Worry Adversaries

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Speaker's Views Worry Adversaries

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- House Speaker Daniel Webster was introduced

recently at a luncheon in jest as a member of a sinister

international conspiracy "that began in Bethlehem 2,000 years

ago."

Webster's fundamentalist Christian faith has been a cause for

admiration, alarm and, in the case of the Capitol Tiger Bay Club

speaker, irony, since in November he became the first Republican

to lead the House in more than a century.

People don't quite know what to make of the air conditioning

contractor from Ocoee, just outside Orlando.

Is he a right-wing ideologue who will pursue a polarizing

agenda that will bitterly divide the House and result in delay

and gridlock?

Or is he a pragmatist who will unite conservatives and

moderates behind mainstream Republican legislation?

The evidence from his 16-year legislative career seems to

support the idea that he is a pragmatist, and he lists education

and economic development as his priorities rather than

controversial social legislation.

If a school prayer bill comes along, Webster said, he will vote

for it, but he will not push for its adoption and will

discourage any attempts to attach it to vital education

legislation.

But Webster has put Christian conservatives like Reps. Steve

Wise, R-Jacksonville, and Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, into key

positions and some groups have expressed concerns that the

Christian right will influence the legislative process.

His inclusion of "empowerment of families" among his

priorities, while innocuous on its face, raised red flags with

some who feared it might be code for right-wing legislation.

The Rev. James Armstrong of Winter Park, president of the

Florida Council of Churches, said he supports strengthening

families, but does not want Webster to define "families" for

him.

Armstrong said he was concerned that Webster might try to

inappropriately apply some biblical principles to legislation.

"Woman was considered to be inferior and subservient in Bible

times," Armstrong said. "Today, we know that men and women,

though not the same, thank God, are equal. …

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