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Rep. Gaetz gets another challenger with Peggy Schiller

Peggy Schiller

Amid the sex-trafficking investigation of Congressman Matt Gaetz, who has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing, the 2022 campaign for his House seat is gearing up, with the addition of another Democratic candidate.

Democrat Peggy Schiller worked as a corporate litigator in New York City for several years and lived in Atlanta before moving to Santa Rosa Beach in 2018. What she saw when she arrived there shocked her.

“Our congressman had been John Lewis in Atlanta, and here it was Matt Gaetz. I never thought of running until moved here,” Schiller said. “Because I think the people of the First District deserve someone who is interested in representing them — not just having a comedy club routine and clearly just trying to make himself famous.”

Schiller wants to, in her words, bring back integrity and dignity to the District 1 seat. To that end, her platform includes protecting the area’s natural resources. She believes economics and the environment go hand-in-hand.

“And I think good environmental policy is good business policy for the district,” she said. “We rely so heavily on a beautiful coastline and our warm temperatures and our areas. And we have to get control of the environment and the climate to be able to do that.”

Affordable housing is another issue that affects not only the First District and Florida but also the entire nation. Schiller says the crisis is forcing people into homelessness, despite many of them having a job and money.

“Because when their landlord decides to upgrade their property to take advantage of the high housing market, they’re asked to leave and there’s nowhere to go that they can afford,” said Schiller. “As much of the growth that we’ve seen in the Panhandle is going to go, if Florida continues to on the path of being one of the most expensive places to live.”

On another front, Schiller believes that older Americans and those who wore the nation’s cloth deserve better than what they’re receiving in the First District especially in this time of COVID-19. For starters, she wants to see a VA hospital closer to home.

“For many of them the closest in-patient VA hospital is in Mobile,” she said. Our district is one of the highest percentage of veterans and veterans’ families living it in. And particularly in a pandemic, it really comes out pretty blatantly when there’s no in-patient facility here for veterans.”

On the other end of the age spectrum, Schiller contends the district’s children are being done a “real disservice.”

“Our district has, I guess you could call, the dubious distinction of having the most minors incarcerated in adult jail and we need to do better than that,” Schilling said. “We need to fine-tune our education and provide opportunities which, of course, brings in the affordable housing, etc., etc. So that our children stop landing in adult jails and have a future.”

There’s a primary challenge looming for Schiller. Rebekah Jonesthe former state statistician, who was removed from that job after going against Gov. Ron DeSantis over-reporting COVID numbers, is also seeking the Democratic nomination. Schiller says her campaign strategy is the same for both Jones and for incumbent Republican Matt Gaetz.

“Basically, my campaign strategy is to get myself out there, my name out there, and go talk to the people and show them what I do have,” said Schiller. “I want to talk to people, I want to hear what their concerns are, and I want to be committed to representing them, instead of my party or instead of myself.”

However, Peggy Schiller is aware that in deep-red Northwest Florida a run as a Democrat will be an uphill climb. So she’s making a gesture across the aisle.

“And I’d be foolish to say anything different,” Schiller said. “I know there are a lot of Republicans out there who also feel they’re not being represented in any way by Matt Gaetz because he has been an utter failure to do anything for this district, or even appear in this district. I think when people hear my platform and talk to me, they’ll understand.”

The Democratic primary for the First Congressional District will be part of the statewide primary vote from Washington and Tallahassee offices to the grassroots on August 23.