By Duwayne Escobedo
Don Gaetz said watching his son Matt confront hundreds of angry protestors against his son’s policy to eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Education and Obamacare on Open Gaetz Day reminded him of one of his clearest childhood memories.
His 5-foot-7 dad, Jerry, set an example as an imposing politician. Gaetz said his dad was the mayor of a small North Dakota town and a manager for the railroad. It was the 1960s, and his father hired Native Americans to work for the railroad. Many in town didn’t like that and decided to protest.
However, his dad stood on the railroad tracks and faced down the angry town folks.
“He was a Barry Goldwater Republican,” said Gaetz, who tears up at the memory of his father and son. “He told them they would work in the community, send their kids to school in the community and live in the community, if they wanted to.”
Gaetz saw his father in his son Matt on Open Gaetz Day and said it was a proud moment for him. He revealed his son likes to wear a T-shirt with a quote from former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that reads: “I love a man who grins when he fights.”
“He didn’t try to run away. He doesn’t back down ever,” Gaetz said. “That’s who Matt is. He doesn’t take it personally.”
Of course, Don Gaetz was not known to back down in something he believed in either. The Florida Department of Education threatened him when he was Superintendent and decided the Okaloosa County school district would stop promoting its K-12 students onto the next grade, if they failed to pass. It’s a practice known as social promotion. State law declares students can only be retained once in elementary school.
The school district also gave those who failed to pass $2,000 to hire tutors to help them learn the subjects they were required to know. Gaetz said within three years, 92 percent of Okaloosa students legitimately passed their grade level.
Gaetz remembered that he called then-Gov. Jeb Bush and Bush told him: “Don, there are only two people who can remove you from office. The voters of Okaloosa County or the governor of Florida, and I’m standing beside you.”