Rep. Matt Gaetz to run for father's state Senate seat

Lauren Sage Reinlie, Northwest Florida Daily News

Although the election is still more than three years away, state Rep. Matt Gaetz has thrown his hat into the ring to fill his father’s Senate seat.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, will reach his term limit for the District 1 Senate seat in 2016.

Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, joins Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, who pre-filed to run for the seat in November.

“I’ve got a good amount of fight left in me for the people of Northwest Florida,” said Matt Gaetz, who was first elected to the state House in 2010. “The Senate is the better opportunity to advance the conservative cause on a bigger stage. Far too often the Senate is the place that conservative reform dies.”

He decided to pre-file on Thursday at the close of the legislative session, submitting the paperwork on Friday.

The decision means he will be running concurrent campaigns for the Senate seat in 2016 and for re-election to his House seat in 2014.

“I do love to campaign,” Matt Gaetz said.

He said he needed to file now because Patronis had already kicked off the campaign.

Patronis’ campaign had raised almost $97,000 by the middle of March, according to records from the state’s elections division.

Patronis will reach the end of his fourth consecutive term in the House next year. Term limits preclude him from running for that seat again and the Senate is a natural progression, he said.

“When you start serving in the Florida Legislature, it takes you really a good four or five years to get your feet wet and to really be effective,” he said. “If I want to continue what I’ve learned and what I can contribute, the Senate’s the next logical step for me.”

The two candidates said they shared mutual respect for one another, and their families, all politically active, are very close.

Don Gaetz said he thought he had been through his final Senate campaign when he was elected in 2012, but that now his next political campaign will be his son’s.

“My political priority now is to help elect a strong, young, conservative leader to the Florida Senate and I pick my candidate. It’s Matt Gaetz,” he said.

The Gaetzes have been the first father-and-son team to serve in the Florida Legislature.

“It would be a source of great pride for me to surrender my seat on the Senate floor to the taller, smarter, younger, better-looking Gaetz,” Don Gaetz said.

He said he believes his son will be re-elected because he will work twice as hard as any other candidate and will do all he can to earn the confidence of the people of Northwest Florida.  

Both candidates said they have deep respect for each other and their families are close, but they didn't shy from trading barbs.

Patronis said he admires Gaetz' tenacity, but that it isn't for everyone.

"He's got an agressive streak in him to be admired by some, resented by others," he said. He noted his own experience working with different groups of people, such as his work to bring the environmental, regulatory and business communities together to force them to enact environmental reform policies.

Matt Gaetz said he and Patronis have very different views on the role of government.

"Jimmy tends to follow the legislative leadership even when they are raising taxes or growing government, but I've been known in Tallahassee to take a few hero votes, as we call them, even if the leadership is moving in one direction, if it's not something I agree with I tend to vote for my constituents."

Matt Gaetz said he now will start knocking on doors and meeting people across the district, which runs from Okaloosa to Jackson County.

“That will take some time. But, there are three things that are certain in District 1: The sun rises in the east, it sets in the west and the most conservative candidate wins. That’s why I’ve got a good chance.”