TALLAHASSEE — Five hours have been set aside for Thursday’s “stand your ground” hearing in the Florida House, where changes to the law, including its repeal, will be considered.
For many, it will be their first exposure to the chairman of the hearing, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, a brash 31-year-old Twitter aficionado who three months ago declared he didn’t support “changing one damn comma” in the 2005 law.
Although Gaetz promises he will give equal time to the law’s opponents and insists his ultra-conservative biases won’t interfere, his strident, ready-to-pounce debating style rarely cedes ground.
“If you’re in the fight and Matt’s on your side, that’s a great thing,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity. “And if he’s not, that’s a very bad thing.”
Gaetz’s reputation as one of the Legislature’s best orators belies another view of him as an entitled ne’er-do-well.
The son of Senate President Don Gaetz is an attorney and lists his net worth at $1 million. He’s called “Baby Gaetz” by some and known for late-night antics.
“I’m a legislator, not a monk,” he jokes.
Those close to him say the partying image makes it easy for people to underestimate him.
“When I first met him, I thought he was a kid resting on the laurels of his father,” said Rep. John Tobia, who roomed with Gaetz during the 2011 and 2012 sessions. “Nothing could be further from the truth. He brought more work home than anyone. When I got up to go the gym in the morning, he’d be going into the office.”
A graduate of Florida State University and the College of William and Mary law school, Gaetz won his first campaign at the age of 28 during a 2010 special election to replace former House Speaker Ray Sansom, who resigned after he was accused of scheming to get $6 million in state money to pay for a hangar at the Destin airport for developer Jay Odom.