Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Ft. Walton Beach, isn’t the only Tallahassee twerp to publicly disrespect his elders and betters, but he’s the first in memory to be called to account in the court of public opinion.
Gaetz, 31, got his law license all of seven years ago and doesn’t have much to show in the way of legislative achievements for his five years in the House. He is better known as a master of the Twitterverse, where he spends a lot of time burnishing his credentials as the Eric Cartman of the lower chamber.
Gaetz cemented that reputation last week when his cyber-snark morphed into something much uglier as the House hyperventilated and finally imploded in a snit with the Senate over Medicaid expansion.
Last Tuesday, House speaker and one man public policy death panel Steve Crisafulli, R- Merritt Island, surprised the Senate and 20 million Floridians by pulling the plug on the legislative session rather than negotiate a budget.
On Thursday, 13 members of the Senate Democratic caucus challenged Crisafulli’s temper tantrum in the Florida Supreme Court.
The senators argued – and late Friday, five justices agreed – that the House violated the Florida Constitution by adjourning early with the people’s business unfinished.
The senators were represented in the case by Mark Herron, a highly successful and respected white male lawyer who has practiced Florida constitutional law since before Gaetz was born. Like a lot of hastily-produced legal documents, Herron’s Supreme Court filing contained some typographical errors.
Gaetz quickly rendered his opinion on Twitter, saying, “The lawsuit reads like it was researched and drafted by Sen. Joyner and spell checked by Sen. Bullard.”
The Internet correctly believes that the obvious conclusion is usually the right one, and cyberspace immediately took note that Arthenia Joyner, a practicing lawyer since 1969, and Dwight Bullard, who teaches social studies at Miami Coral Reef Senior High School, were singled out by Gaetz to be mocked as stupid and possibly illiterate because and only because they are African-American.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, was the first power player to tweet the obvious: “This is absolutely disgraceful for a public official to say.”As Master of the House, Crisafulli might have taken a cue from Latvala and ordered Gaetz to join him in personally delivering a truckload of olive branches to Joyner, Bullard, and the millions of Floridians of all colors and political points of view who wholeheartedly agree with Latvala.
Instead, Crisafulli made things worse by apologizing “to those offended” and then retracting the apology with this Twitter instant classic: “I don’t condone the Tweet by @MattGaetz. He is an agitator, yes, but not a racist. Please accept my apology to those offended.”
Joyner, 72, risked her life in the mid-20th century struggles for civil rights. She has decades of experience staying classy, no matter what the physical threat or verbal provocation. This time, and at long last, Joyner did not turn the other cheek.
In a response more measured and thoughtful than Gaetz deserved, Joyner wrote:
“Let me begin by saying I am deeply grateful to Senator Latvala and the many others who immediately spoke out against the disgraceful tweet by Rep. Gaetz. Your support made the sting of such hurtful remarks less biting and I truly appreciate your having my back.
“But there are two things that remain deeply troubling to me, as they should to most Floridians. First, there has been no apology from Rep. Gaetz. There were some additional tweets, one attacking liberals and Obamacare, but the silence addressing his disparaging remarks has been deafening.
“In fact, I believe they underscored what myself and others have long suspected, namely that this fierce battle launched by the House Republicans against the Senate’s good healthcare expansion bill had nothing to do with taking federal money.
“In our current budget, the one the House bragged about after its passage last year, more than one-third of the money in that budget – the one paying our expenses right now – came from Washington, D.C. Yet, while Representatives like Gaetz and Corcoran and Speaker Crisafulli were ranting and declaring war and jumping up and down over the evils of taking federal money for Medicaid expansion, not one of them – not one! – ever suggested or offered to return a penny of the federal money they’re relying on now or what they have every intention of grabbing for the budget to come.
“So you have to wonder. What makes some federal dollars ok, and others not?
“Could it be because some have the name ‘Obamacare’ stamped on them? Could it be that far from an isolated moment of judgment lapse on Twitter by Rep. Gaetz, the real source of his anger was unveiled?
“Because the only difference in the federal money they choose to accept or reject lays in the hand that’s extending it. The only difference in the members of the Senate Democrats involved in bringing the lawsuit he chose to attack or ignore in his Twitter rant is the color of our skin.
“And so while the Speaker may try his best to walk back the motive of his member, he cannot walk back the 140 characters of Rep. Gaetz’s racist barb. His words are the kind I have fought against my entire life, the relic of days through which I lived and hope never to live through again.
“So when the fight is resumed against a black U.S. President’s efforts to help all Americans, all Floridians – no matter their color – get affordable healthcare, don’t insult us by telling us it’s about a deficit, or a broken system, or any other excuse other than the real one that’s driving this.”
Latvala is not the only Republican who understands that Gaetz’ overt racism is bad for party business. Jacksonville Times-Union Bureau Chief Tia Mitchell reports Gaetz received “repeated requests from colleagues and advisers” to “smooth things over.”
Gaetz’ idea of smoothing things over was a tweet that said, “My criticisms of ObamaCare Expansion and it’s [sic] supporters are based solely on the facts. Deeply sorry if anyone read more into it than that.”
Then, he was off to Kentucky for the Derby. What he really needs is 21 days in a racism rehab.