By way of both a disclosure and a jumping-off point for this post, I need to make it clear that for two of his previous campaigns, I served as a political consultant to state Rep. Matt Gaetz. The expertise I offered, for whatever it was worth, was in the area of social media, including advice on how to best utilize Facebook and Twitter.
For much of his political career, Gaetz has been a master of the online domains, using social media to advance major issues and pet projects. He’s built a major presence in the digital arena of Florida politics with his rapier wit and blunt declarations. Even those who disagree with the arch conservative North Florida lawmaker concede that the only place Gaetz is more brilliant than he is when delivering a speech on the floor of the Florida House is when he is at a keyboard or on his smart phone and broadcasting to his friends and followers.
That is, until last night.
Gaetz started a Twitter war Thursday afternoon after remarking that the Senate Democrats’ lawsuit filed in the Florida Supreme Court “rea(d) like it was “researched and drafted by Sen. Joyner and spell checked by Sen. Bullard.”
It’s not clear what Gaetz meant by the remarks about Senate Minority Leader Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a former Bar Association president, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, a high school teacher, but the posting has caught the ire of several legislators. It was re-tweeted by POLITICO’s Marc Caputo, who noted that Gaetz “is on his way to offending a quorum of the Florida Senate.”
The remarks were made after Senate Democrats filed a lawsuit against the House of Representatives for adjourning Sine Die, Tuesday afernoon. The Florida Supreme Court has ordered the House to respond to the suit by 10 a.m. Friday.
State Sen. Jack Latvala noted that the remark was “absolutely disgraceful for a public official to say.”
Things got so heated on social media that Speaker Steve Crisafulli had to tweet about the affair.
Crisafulli said he “does not condone the Tweet by @MattGaetz. He is an agitator, yes, but not a racist. Please accept my apology to those offended.”
As I noted last night on Twitter, if the speaker of the Florida House has to declare that you are not a racist, you’re not exactly winning the day.
Undoubtedly, Gaetz will recover from this flub and continue to be one of the standout members of the Florida House and, eventually, the Florida Senate.
However, it’s worth examining whether Gaetz’s mistake is emblematic of two larger factors at play in the current corrosive legislative political environment.
The first is just the sheer level of immaturity of some of the members of the House, both Republican and Democrat. I’m not saying these members are childish or that kind of thing.
It’s just that there are a lot of twentysomethings and early thirtysomethings who still have a lot to learn about life — getting married, having children, having a home, starting a business.
I see a lot of members who have not won and lost at many things other than a campaign.
Where have they traveled? Where else have they lived other than a Florida college campus?
Have they seen firsthand sickness, struggle, and death?
Do they understand forgiveness and redemption?
I remember how immature and narrow-minded I was at 23 years old, which is how old state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan is. I wasn’t much better at 32 years old, which is how old Gaetz is. Or at 33 years-old, which is the age of my friend state Rep. Chris Latvala.
Quite frankly, an older, wiser person would not have tweeted what Gaetz had simply because they would have been more aware of state Sen. Joyner’s contributions to the Civil Rights movement.
Nor do I believe older, wiser members of the Florida Legislature would be cheering — yes, cheering — at the early adjournment of the House. I know there were members much older than Gaetz applauding this, but they should know better.
It’s not that the Florida Senate knows better than the House. In fact, I am increasingly convinced that the Senate is as much to blame for the House’s actions as the House itself.
But the Senate is comprised of members with many more gray hairs than that of the House. And they realize what shutting down the Legislature really means.
It’s not that the Senate hasn’t always been more gray, more senior than the House. Of course it has. But what’s at work now is a generational divide — sometimes literally as it is in the case of the two fathers and sons who serve in the Legislature — between the Senate and House.
I’m not exactly sure, but I’d bet that the difference between the median age of the members of the House and the median age of the members of the Senate is at its most disparate, maybe ever.
This has an impact on how things are playing out, even if both chambers are controlled by the GOP.
In the Senate, the Republicans there are mostly Reagan Republicans who are certainly conservative, but they remember how Reagan would reach across the aisle to get things done.
In the House, the Republicans are mostly Gingrich Republicans who see no problem with shutting down government if they disagree with their opponents.
This is the current state of the state capital — a one-party town at war with itself. And the divide is greater than first realized.