Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday July 18th 2018

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Mr. Gaetz Goes to Washington

By Rick Outzen

A little less than a month ago, State Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, beating Democrat Steven Specht 69%-31%. He is only the fifth person, and third Republican, to represent Northwest Florida since World War II.

Inweekly caught up with Gaetz two days before Thanksgiving.

He shared, “The easy part is over, Rick. Now we’ve got to actually go govern.”

Gaetz has a proven track record of governance. For the past six years, he has served in the Florida House, rising to the chairmanship of the powerHouse Finance & Tax Committee in 2014. He earned a reputation has a tireless worker, skilled political strategist, and great debater on the House floor.

He told Inweekly that he was impressed with the attitude of U.S. House Republicans.

“There’s a renewed enthusiasm. There’s real accountability. There’s no one to point the finger at. Republicans in Washington will either start solving our country’s problems, or the voters will throw us out with good reason. I’m eager to be a part of that new ethic, that desire to really roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Because Representatives Jeff Miller (R-Chumuckla) and Rich Nugent (R-Spring Hills) retired this year, Florida does not have a member on the House Armed Services Committee for the upcoming session. He wants that to change.

“One area where I want to have focus is rebuilding our nation’s military and taking care of our veterans, and that’s why I’m working hard to get on the Armed Services Committee,” said Gaetz.

He has traveled to Washington, D.C. and met with the House leadership. He has found the keys to being effective in Congress are to show you can be a team player and demonstrate that you are willing to work hard.

Gaetz shared a behind-the-scenes look at how Speaker of the House Paul Ryan works.

“We had a conference meeting, and there were some Republicans who were pushing to reinstall provisions of the earmark system, where people in Congress could direct funding to specific items in their districts,” he said.

The Republicans had gotten rid of earmarks after several reported scandals and misuses of funds, according to Gaetz.

“There were some that thought well, we got control now, so let’s give ourselves the earmark power back,” he said. “I was so proud that Paul Ryan stood before the conference and said, ‘We will not be doing this. We have been given the trust of the people, and we will behave in every way worthy of that trust.’”

Gaetz added, “From the outset, I thought that it set the right tone.”

He was an early supporter of Donald Trump. When he faced his opponents in the first Republican Congressional debate in June, he was unabashed in his support of Trump.

Gaetz said at the debate held at Booker T. Washington High School, “I’m an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump and here’s why. People in this country have woken up to the fact that for the last several decades both political parties have been working for the same special interests.”

He added, “I like the fact that somebody is going to go to Washington and completely hit the restart button. That’s one of the reasons why the day I announced my candidacy for Congress endorsed Donald Trump because he is going to make America great again.”

Since Nov.  8, the 34-yeard-old Congressman has watched President-elect Donald Trump’s selection process for his Cabinet with great interest.

“Donald Trump takes on its own unique flavor, so you see those forces colliding,” he said. “I believe there have been some very competent people that he’s looked at, that he’s chosen.”

There are some more important spots that he and others in Northwest Florida are going watching closely.

“I am hopeful that Jeff Miller will be asked to serve in the administration as the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs,” said Gaetz. “I think that Jeff Miller knows what structural reforms are absolutely necessary if we’re going to save the VA from itself.”

Another Floridian that he recommends watching is Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

“Pam Bondi, whom we know well here in Florida, is someone who may get a significant role in the Administration, and I like that,” he said. “I like seeing Floridians in positions of national significance, because then when we have challenges we’re dealing with someone who knows us, who can point to Escambia County or Santa Rosa County on a map. I think that will give us an advantage in the Trump Administration that we haven’t necessarily seen in the past.”

Gaetz talked about the challenges of assembling a Cabinet that is diverse, yet cohesive.

“The consequences of myopic administration are dire because then you don’t really sand off the rough edges of public policy with debate and disagreement and a refining of work product,” he said. “At the same time, you’ve got to thread that needle, because you don’t want to be in a situation where you are so diverse in thought from a context standpoint that you’re unable to craft coherent foreign policy.”

He wondered aloud how Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee, would work with retired Army General Michael Flynn, whom Trump has named as his National Security Advisor.

“General Flynn fundamentally believes in engagement with Russia. Mitt Romney believes in more bullish tactics. How do those two get together and form coherent policy? It could be great, but it also is just something we’re going to have to watch as it evolves,” said Gaetz.

Before heading home to share Thanksgiving with his family, he gave an update on his father, Don Gaetz, the former Florida Senate president who retired this year.

“Mom and dad are great,” he shared. “Mom’s got us all on a diet. She told me that after seeing my television commercials, I needed to lose a few pounds. I said, ‘But, Mother, the camera adds 10 pounds,’ to which she responded, ‘Well how many were pointed at you?’”

Laughing, Gaetz added, “So no pumpkin pie, none of some of our favorites, but it’ll be like a low-carb, lean Thanksgiving for the Gaetz family, followed by my mother making my dad and I walk around a lot.”