Doug Guetzloe muscled his way to the front of Orlando's political scene nearly a quarter-century ago and never left.

The 52-year-old Orlando man has become one of the region's most well-known political figures without ever being elected to public office. He has built an intensely loyal following under the banner of his grass-roots Ax the Tax group. In doing so, Guetzloe has become a champion of the disaffected, portraying himself as the courageous outsider who is forever storming the gates of "the downtown crowd" on behalf of the little guy.

Key figures in the political establishment scorn him and accuse him of being against everything and for nothing. But it has become increasingly clear in the past 10 days that they don't ignore him. Guetzloe is on the defensive about revelations that his services or silence has been bought by the Orlando Magic, a major resort, the local toll-road agency and others.

"He suddenly seems to have a very close relationship with the power structure that for so many years he railed against," said talk-radio host Bud Hedinger, who joined Guetzloe in helping defeat a transportation tax three years ago. "It raises some credibility issues for Doug."

On the advice of his attorney, Guetzloe would not comment for this story. But he defended his methods and explained his motivations during several interviews with an Orlando Sentinel reporter last year and on his radio show in the past 10 days.

Early controversies

Guetzloe, a married father of three who lives in a neighborhood near downtown Orlando, has walked hand-in-hand with controversy throughout his life.

It started when the Tampa native was 20 years old and rose to student-body president at St. Petersburg Junior College -- and faced an unsuccessful impeachment because of his expressed contempt for the student senate.

When he transferred to Florida State University, Guetzloe again ascended to student-body president, the same time current gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist was vice president. In what the Tallahassee Democrat dubbed a "campus-size Watergate," student groups tried to recall Guetzloe, accusing him of using his position to persecute political enemies.

The recall effort failed, but the student presidency would be the last elected office Guetzloe held. He campaigned for a seat as a Republican in the Florida Senate in 1986 and 1990 but lost both times.

Guetzloe's real power didn't come from a political title. It came from Ax the Tax, a citizens group he helped start in 1982.

The group was formed to fight a proposed sales-tax increase to raise money for a downtown sports arena. It lost big, and Guetzloe's activist career was launched.

With a sharp sense of humor, an acerbic tongue and a populist message, Guetzloe has built Ax the Tax into a small but highly motivated grass-roots force. Under his leadership, its loose and ever-changing band of believers in at least eight counties has fought new taxes to pay for environmental lands, schools and roads as well as plans for light rail, commuter rail and more. There have been high-profile successes, such as the 2003 defeat of the Mobility 20/20 sales-tax increase for transportation, and high-profile losses, such as the education tax approved by voters a year earlier.

Guetzloe says Ax the Tax has saved taxpayers $11 billion through the years, though critics counter that some of the initiatives would have failed anyway.

"In every community, there are builders and destroyers," lawyer and former state legislator Bill Sublette said Friday. "Doug appeals to that crowd that thinks all government is bad and is against whatever the community is trying to do."

Lobbyist, consultant

But while anti-tax activist is Guetzloe's public persona, it's not his only one. Guetzloe is also a lobbyist and paid political consultant who has worked for a slew of mostly conservative politicians through the years. Some are minor candidates, but he has also been hired by U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, among others.

"I am regarded as probably the most hard-nosed, successful political consultant around," Guetzloe said on his radio show last week.

He hosts The Guetzloe Report, his own talk-radio show on 1190 AM (WAMT). The show opens every weekday with "The Star-Spangled Banner" or another rousing patriotic standard -- after all, the conservative commentator named his three children after founding presidents -- and for the next hour Guetzloe beats up on the political establishment. Regular targets range from the mayors of Orlando and Orange County to the Orlando Sentinel to other lobbyists he considers enemies.