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Gaetz and Jones square off in Florida House-1

Jones and Gaetz

Voters in the First U.S. House District in Florida, the western Panhandle, will decide between two candidate who bring legal baggage to the race.

It’s Democratic nominee Rebekah Jones challenging incumbent Republican Matt Gaetz, who is seeking a third term. Jones is a former analyst for the state Department of Health, and is scheduled to stand trial January 23 in Tallahassee, on charges that she illegally accessed a DOH computer system.

“I can't wait. I want to be able to take them to court and depose everyone and put them on the stand and force them to testify,” said Jones. “The state has offered to dismiss everything four times. And every single time I told them no, I want my day in court. So the sooner we can get through that step, the sooner we can sue them for everything related to my whistleblower complaint.”

Gaetz remains under investigation in connection with a suspected child sex ring. He has not been charged, and denies any wrongdoing. Federal prosecutors have recommended not to bring charges against him.

Rebekah Jones says she offers the kind of representation to Florida House-1 that she contends is lacking from Matt Gaetz.

“Where he’s barely been in his seat and passed no legislation whatsoever to help us,” she said. “We have crumbling infrastructure. We need to actually finish building our bridges and roads at some point. And we don’t have anyone in Congress lobbying to bring that giant infrastructure funding bill here to the First District. That’s one of our biggest problems.”

Other issues Jones cites include veterans’ benefits, along with building a VA hospital in the Pensacola area — called by many the highest concentration of veterans in the nation. Other issues, she says, involve what she calls “basic maintenance work.”

“Like starting the process of getting a second post office in Navarre, or upgrading the one that we have so we can handle the capacity of 40,000 people and doesn't flood every single time it just sprinkles,” Jones said. “It's not the high ticket existential crisis the world is coming to an end stuff, but it's the stuff that impacts our day-to-day lives.”

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The next representative, says Jones, must be able to recognize the risks and vulnerabilities, which are unique to the First District. She says she uses her decade-long work as a hurricane scientist and in disaster response.

“I know what we need to do to prepare for the things that would most devastate our communities,” said Jones. “I know it from an academic and a personal position. Those are the kinds of things that would be maybe nice to have people who have spent their lives fixing problems instead of fighting about them with other people in Congress.”

Calls to the Matt Gaetz’ campaign requesting an interview were not returned. He did appear last week on WSRE-TV’s “Rally 2022” program with Jones. But rather than focusing on his opponent, Gaetz spent a portion of the debate attacking President Joe Biden on a number of issues, such as immigration reform.

“Joe Biden has let millions of people into our country illegally,” claimed Gaetz. “Finish the wall, change our asylum laws, and then you know what? We're going to need internal enforcement. We have to find every one of those Joe Biden buses or flights that drop people off in the interior of the country. And we got to track those people down and deport them.”

On the issue of campaign finance reform, it appears that both candidates are on the same page of the hymnal — or is it ledger?

“But I think it should be illegal for federal lobbyists or federal PACs to make donations,” said Gaetz. “I am the only Republican in the United States Congress today who doesn't take any money from lobbyists or PACs. And the average donation to my campaign is actually $38.”

Gaetz told the public TV audience that his top priority if given a fourth term, would be to advance the military mission in, and off, the Florida Panhandle.

“I want to see the mission at NAS Pensacola grow; I want to see the cyber mission at Hurlburt [Field] grow, and at Whiting Field,” he said. “Before I was elected, we had 20 to 30 year old aircraft for our maintainers and for our trainers and our pilots and instructors. Now, we already have dozens of new aircraft. So I want to keep growing that mission.”

When it comes to veterans and their health care, Gaetz said he leans toward the notion of privatizing such treatments, and getting Uncle Sam out of the picture.

“I would entertain the prospect of totally abolishing the VA and then giving every veteran in our country a card, that would allow them to walk into any willing provider and get medical services from the taxpayer,” said Gaetz. “I'd rather put the power in the hands of the veterans, not in the hands of the bureaucracy that too often fails them.”

Early voting kicked off in Florida on Monday, and runs through November 5. For hours and locations, visit your county’s supervisor of elections website.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.