Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, raised $252,000 over seven weeks in his bid to succeed his father, Don, the Senate president, in a Panhandle Senate seat. Gaetz's fast and formidable out-of-the-gate showing may help explain why Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, decided to end his campaign for the same seat after raising $2,800 in the past three months.
Most of young Gaetz's money is from local supporters in Northwest Florida, not Tallahassee insiders. But he did get $2,500 from an Orlando-area network of injury clinics, $2,000 from the HCA hospital chain and $1,500 from private prison builder Geo Group and two company execs. Former House Speaker Dean Cannon, now a lobbyist, and his wife Ellen each gave Gaetz $500 as did Bradenton real estate investor and former Senate president John McKay and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
The younger Gaetz, dubbed "Baby Gaetz" by Tallahassee lobbyists, is running for a seat that might not be open until 2016. That's when Don Gaetz's term would expire, and he has said he "intends" to fill out his term. It's unusual, but not unprecedented, for a Senate president to make the awkward transition to being just another senator after residing in the presidential suite for two years. The last one who did it, Ken Pruitt of Port St. Lucie, had a change of heart and resigned his seat on the last day of the 2009 session.
Joking about having a son in the Legislature, Don Gaetz told a crowd at a campaign appearance for Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday that when people ask, "What has Gaetz gone and done now? There's a 50-50 chance it ain't me."
Matt Gaetz, speaking at the same event, displayed his father's knack for feisty rhetoric. "A lot of times we have to take second fiddle to those folks in South Florida," he said in Graceville. "But whenever we pick a fight with them we know we're going to win, because we've got all the guns, and we're a better shot than they are."
-- Steve Bousquet