Get free daily email updates
Search Story Archive

Matt Gaetz cancels father-son talk after getting whooping cough


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, August 5, 2015..........State Rep. Matt Gaetz had to cancel his half of a father-son appearance Wednesday due to a case of whooping cough apparently contracted from Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo, according to Gaetz's dad, state Sen. Don Gaetz.

The younger Gaetz stayed home in Fort Walton Beach under a quarantine that will last three to five days, after which Okaloosa County health authorities will decide whether to extend it.

"Matt spent time with Congressman Curbelo in Washington and apparently picked up the whooping cough from him," Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, told a group of Florida State University students at the Old Capitol. "He's in his house in Fort Walton Beach, doing lots of legal work for his clients, because he can still bill, even though he can't cough on you."

Curbelo, who is from Miami-Dade County, was diagnosed with the disease Monday; Matt Gaetz was diagnosed Tuesday.

Though the younger Gaetz couldn't speak to the students, Don Gaetz welcomed the chance to carry "both sides of the debate." He noted that whooping cough is dangerous to small children and said he hopes his son will be able to attend next week's special legislative session on redistricting.

The lawmaker's illness wasn't severe enough to suppress his father's well-known jocular side, however.

"The bad news is, Matt has whooping cough," the senator told students from the FSU master's program in Applied American Politics and Policy. "The good news is, Matt is quarantined."

The talk had been billed as "Gaetz on Gaetz: Florida, Family and Politics" and was expected to include the pair of outspoken --- and some would say colorful --- lawmakers. Even without his son, Don Gaetz, a former Senate president, carried on.

Don Gaetz described his son, also a Republican, as one of his best teachers.

"He looks at issues, obviously, through the eyes of a 33-year-old," the elder Gaetz said. "He looks at issues through the eyes … of somebody who moves in circles where different issues are discussed than in the geriatric circles that I move in."

For instance, he said, Matt Gaetz had convinced him to support a form of medical marijuana --- after one of their most spirited debates.

"He came to that through spending time with families that had children who were going through violent seizures because none of the treatments or medications … was helping," the senator recalled. "I said, 'No! Medical cannabis? Next thing you know, they're going to be standing on the Capitol steps, smoking. One toke over the line.' … But Matt convinced me to start supporting those families."

The Niceville Republican said his son also gave him fresh perspective on an adoption bill that roiled the 2015 regular session. The elder Gaetz was the Senate sponsor of the bill, which began as a simple effort to offer incentives to government employees who adopt children --- especially those with special needs --- from the foster-care system. "American flag and motherhood," the senator called his original bill.

But the House added a provision removing an obsolete ban on gay adoption that had been struck down by an appeals court five years before. A firestorm ensued. Some Republicans pushed for a separate "conscience protection" bill aimed at shielding private adoption agencies from legal consequences if they refused to place children with same-sex couples.

And when the adoption bill returned to the Senate, the elder Gaetz faced a quandary.

"If we'd have bounced the bill back one more time, the leadership in the House said, 'We don't want to take it up. We don't want to go through this again,' " he recalled. "Again, my son sat me down and said, 'Dad, nobody under 35 cares about this issue. Only you old guys. … Republicans shouldn't care.' "

Don Gaetz led Senate passage of the bill, including elimination of the ban on same-sex adoption. Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law.

As he fielded questions from the students, the senator also weighed in on such hot-button issues as health care coverage and the ugly end to this year's regular legislative session, when the House shut down three days early.

He predicted the Senate would not renew its call to expand health care coverage to uninsured Floridians in the upcoming 2016 session.

"I think the idea of coverage expansion in any way like we proposed it last year is dead," he said. "I would personally advise against it if I were asked. But we Republicans have to acknowledge that when you say no to coverage expansion, you haven't made the uninsured go away. They don't just wander off into the woods and die quietly."

His son, he noted, would have been quick to rebut his position on health care. "But the House demagogued the Senate on this issue," he said.

Don Gaetz also decried the House-Senate breach at the end of the regular session. That breach forced a special session in June to approve a budget.

"There was nothing we did in the special session that could not have been done in the regular session," the senator said. "It was a waste of money. It was a waste of time."