Gaetz faces challenger for first time in 12 years

Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 04:35 PM.

 Don Gaetz has plenty of campaign money and a bunch of new constituents in redrawn state Senate District 1.

He sounds almost grateful to also have Richard Harrison.

Harrison is a Marianna farmer who is fed up with the status quo in Tallahassee. He’s running as a non-party-affiliated candidate against Gaetz, R-Niceville, the Senate’s president-elect for 2013-14.

“This is a reapportionment year and all of them are up for re-election whether they want to be or not,” Harrison said. “We need to replace as many as we can.”

Gaetz professes to love campaigning and doesn’t have much trouble rattling off the four times in his long political career that he has faced opposition.

The last time was 12 years ago when Republican David Morgan, Democrat Chuck Lynch and non-affiliated candidate John Hughes challenged Gaetz for the Okaloosa County school superintendent’s job.

Gaetz crushed them all.

Gaetz said by the time he’s through politicking this year, he will have knocked on 35,000 doors, many in counties in a district heavily altered through reapportionment.

“I particularly have enjoyed the new areas of my district, Washington, Holmes and Jackson counties,” Gaetz said. “We’ve done a lot of door knocking there in a part of the state I haven’t represented before.”

On the face of things, the incumbent doesn’t appear to have much to worry about.

He’s got something like $332,000 in campaign funds to spend to Harrison’s $2,000 loan to himself, and seems capable of picking up contributions even on Harrison’s turf.

“We had a recent fundraiser in Marianna and it yielded $1,250,” Gaetz said. “People I haven’t gotten to know before were showing up with $5, $10 and $25 contributions. That’s grass roots at its best.”

But Harrison views himself as the David in a David vs. Goliath-style showdown, and most people know how that one came out.

“I believe in God, the Constitution and common sense,” he said. “The Bible was written on biblical principles and until recently we were a Christian nation.”

Harrison is running to change what he calls the corrupt way that the Florida Legislature is run.

He believes the process in which bills are routed through committees headed by powerful members of the ruling party must be eliminated.

“We have too few people who decide which bills get taken up. That needs to change,” he said.

Harrison wants each state House or Senate bill brought unamended before the full legislative chamber into which it is introduced, to be voted up or down.

“Each bill should stand on its own merits if you’re going to have clean government,” he said. “Most people don’t benefit from the bills as they’re introduced now and can’t do anything about it. That’s tyranny.”

Harrison has pointed out in his campaign two specific examples of bad legislation. Both of them, strangely enough, are bills that passed with support from Gaetz and Harrison.

Harrison said neither of the bills, one killing legislation to require an every-five-year inspection of the state’s septic tanks and the other allowing service stations the freedom to pump ethanol-free gasoline, are what they appeared upon passage.

“Most people think the septic tank inspections have been repealed,” he said. “They haven’t been.”

He called the ethanol legislation, sponsored by Gaetz’s son, state Rep. Matt Gaetz, “a mandated legislative bluff.”

Gaetz, who has heard Harrison annunciate his issue positions only once, said Harrison’s conclusions about the two bills he’s raised as issues are incorrect. He said he isn’t sure his opponent understands the way the state Legislature works.

“Mr. Harrison has a misunderstanding of the legislative process,” he said.

With a month left before the election, Harrison has not yet made it past Panama City.

As a member of the Calhoun Liberty Patriots organization, Harrison said he has sent out feelers to similar organizations in Okaloosa and Walton counties, both of which remain in District One.

He said if he received an invitation to a speaking event he might make the trip from Marianna, but he has no firm plans for now to travel west.

“I’m not going to do Senator Gaetz’s routine of going door to door,” he said.

 
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin at 850-315-4435 or tmclaughlin@nwfdailynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMnwfdn.



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