Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday March 21st 2018


First Congressional District Up for Grabs

By Duwayne Escobedo

If you talk to Matt Gaetz, he is confident that the registered Republicans in the First Congressional District will send him to Washington, D.C.

“I’m excited about Election Day,” said Gaetz, who has served in the Florida House of Representatives since 2010 and is the younger son of former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz. “For the last 22 years, Florida’s first congressional district has voted for conservative Republicans, and I don’t expect that to change.”

Republicans outnumber Democrats more than 2-1 in Northwest Florida, a long conservative stronghold.

In fact, Gaetz remembers when former U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough became the first Republican to represent Northwest Florida since Reconstruction. Gaetz, a 12-year-old boy in 1994, gave $7.82 to Scarborough’s campaign.

“Joe always remembers that I was his youngest contributor,” said Gaetz, who is now 34.

But Steven Specht exudes just as much confidence. He is a former U.S. Air Force Airborne Cryptologic Linguist. Proficient in Pashto and Dari, the 33-year-old Specht served by providing intelligence in more than 70 combat missions during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. After his honorable discharge, Specht spent another year helping the U.S. Marine Corp as an Afghan linguist.

“I’ve worked a real job,” said Specht, a lifelong resident of Northwest Florida, growing up in Jackson County. “I didn’t come straight out of school and come out on the other side with a legislative job.”

Specht recalled lifeguarding, working as a DJ and doing other odds and ends to support himself through college.

“I have a body of life experience,” Specht said. “I had to choose between rent and groceries. My opponent has been living as a career politician.”

Gaetz won the open Republican primary over six other candidates, earning 36 percent of the vote. Former U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, who chairs the House Committee of Veterans Affairs, stepped down after winning the seat in 2001.

Gaetz and Specht both earned law degrees. Specht graduated with honors from Florida State University College of Law where he focused on Constitutional Law and International Law. Gaetz earned his law degree from William & Mary Law School.

Both Gaetz and Specht said, if elected, they hope to get appointed to Armed Services or Veterans Affairs committees, like Miller. Both congressional candidates realize that the large military complex in Northwest Florida, including Naval Air Station Pensacola nicknamed the Cradle of Aviation, Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field and Whiting Field.

Specht not only served in the Air Force but his wife, brother, father and grandfather also joined the military. His dad was a Naval Flight Officer, who trained in Pensacola. Specht said veterans and military families need a strong voice in Congress. He pointed out about 22 military servicemen and women commit suicide every day.

“Our veterans need a voice,” he said. “I want to speak for the people who came before me.”

Gaetz said he would also like to be considered for the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

He pointed out that as chair of the Florida House Finance and Tax committee he and fellow lawmakers cut over 50 taxes that saved taxpayers about $1 billion.

“We created more oxygen in Florida’s economy,” Gaetz said during a congressional debate with Specht at the University of West Florida.

Both candidates also agree that higher education should train students for actual jobs that exist.

“I’ll check the job classifieds every once in awhile, and I’ve never seen one for someone with a two-year degree in history and no experience,” Specht said.

But they disagree on abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. Gaetz said he wants to eliminate the department, while Specht scoffed at the idea.

Gaetz said in the House, he vowed to eliminate the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

“I heard the DCA was blocking opportunity and growth,” Gaetz said. “It took me a little longer but guess what? It’s gone. No matter how long it takes, I will abolish the Department of Education.”

Both are also against illegal immigration. Specht called for more money for Homeland Security and Border Control, while Gaetz said he wanted to cut off benefits to illegal immigrants.

“We have too many entering our country illegally, and they’re sucking our economy dry,” Gaetz said.

Specht and other political opponents also have attacked Gaetz for accepting donations from a super PAC North Florida Neighbors that accepted $369,008 from the Economic Freedom Foundation and $11,306 from the Free Enterprise Fund. which were PACs he had overseen three days before he announced his run for the open congressional seat. Gaetz said he had no control over them when he received the donations to his campaign.

Specht also has claimed Gaetz has had 23 traffic violations, including an October 2008 DUI that was dismissed after Gaetz refused a breathalyzer, and had his driver’s license suspended 10 times.

“It looks to me like he’s vulnerable,” Specht said. “We need someone who has served something bigger than themselves.”

Gaetz has blown off both charges against him.

“I have a record of supporting bold conservative reform in Florida,” Gaetz said. “I’m running on my legislative record. He’d like it to be on my driving record.”