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Gaetz Sex Probe Suddenly Threatens a Speedy Washington Rise

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FILE - In this March 7, 2020, file photo, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., fourth from right, and others stand before a dinner with President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Compared with most congressional newbies, it didn’t take Rep. Matt Gaetz long. Phone calls from the president. Rides aboard Air Force One. Hundreds of television appearances. A darling in conservative circles.

Yet barely four years after arriving in Washington as a little-known Republican state legislator from Florida’s Panhandle, the 38-year-old unblushing defender of Donald Trump is facing a possible abrupt end to his once promising career because of a federal sex-trafficking investigation.

The overwhelming reaction of Gaetz’s GOP colleagues — a deafening silence. That reflects the resentments he’s sparked during his breakneck rise as one of the party’s celebrities and the challenge he faces to retain his seat.

Government agents are investigating if Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old and other underage girls and violated federal sex trafficking laws, people familiar with the probe have told the AP. No charges have been filed, and Gaetz has denied the allegations.

But with new, damaging details emerging regularly, Gaetz’s political arc is beginning to resemble the myth of Icarus, who plunged to earth after ignoring warnings that his waxen wings would melt if he flew too close to the sun.

The coming days will test the crisis management skills of one of the most visible members of Congress’ younger generation, who critics say care more about promoting their own brand than serious legislating.

“They’re here for notoriety and to perform to their base, and anything else that may come is secondary,” said Doug Heye, a Trump critic and former top GOP congressional aide. “And if you boo him that’s great too, as long as you’re watching.”

David Bossie, president of Citizens United, which backs conservative causes and candidates, countered that Gaetz “has been a conservative warrior, working every day to make America great again and fight for President Trump’s agenda.”

Gaetz’s congressional Twitter account is topped with a photo of himself taking a selfie with Trump, apparently on Air Force One. On his personal Twitter account, Gaetz describes himself as “Florida man. Fiancé. Firebrand. America First.” He became engaged at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in December.

Gaetz is quick with a quote and looks little older than a college student. And by his own account, he’s hardly led a prudish lifestyle while battling for conservative causes.

In his 2020 autobiographical book, “Firebrand,” Gaetz praised Trump as someone “who doesn’t care for puritanical grandstanding or moralistic preening.” He added, “If politicians’ family lives aren’t what really matter to the voters, maybe that’s a good thing. I’m a representative, not a monk.”

Chris Latvala, a former GOP colleague in the Florida legislature, suggests that while there, Gaetz went too far. On Friday, Latvala revived a 2020 tweet in which he accused Gaetz of creating a “game where members of the FL House got ‘points’ for sleeping with aides, interns, lobbyists, and married legislators.”

Latvala wrote Friday, “ I am just sorry that this guy may have victimized others, including possibly minors before others came forward to verify it.”

The game was also described by two other Florida Republicans, who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal what was a private matter. Gaetz has denied knowing about it.

The son of Don Gaetz, a wealthy businessman and one-time Florida state Senate president, Matt Gaetz came to Congress after six years of building his conservative credentials in the state House with pro-gun and other legislation.

Just months after Gaetz arrived in Washington in 2017, when Trump’s presidency also began, special counsel Robert Mueller began investigating Russia’s influence in Trump’s election.

Gaetz sprang into action to defend Trump, filing one resolution asserting investigative wrongdoing aimed at making Mueller resign, and essentially never stopped. His persistence was noted by Trump, who began calling the young lawmaker.

The day before a House hearing on the Russia investigation in 2019, Gaetz tweeted at former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who’d turned on Trump and was about to testify, asking, “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” The House Ethics Committee formally admonished Gaetz for the tweet, which some saw as an attempt at intimidation, and he apologized.

Gaetz was highly visible again months later when the House began its impeachment investigation over Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to provide political dirt on Democrat Joe Biden, who would eventually defeat Trump in the election.

Most notably, Gaetz led a cluster of House Republicans who barged past Capitol Police officers into a secure basement meeting room where House Intelligence Committee members were questioning witnesses. They caused a delay of several hours that had little impact on the probe but garnered press attention.

Gaetz was grabbing the spotlight in other ways, too. He brought a white nationalist who questioned the Holocaust as his guest to Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address, later claiming ignorance of the man’s views.

In March 2020 as the pandemic was taking hold, Gaetz wore a gas mask on the House floor. Critics accused him of downplaying COVID-19, as Trump repeatedly did, but Gaetz asserted he was calling attention to lawmakers’ vulnerability to the disease.

All the while, his visibility was growing. Gaetz has made 346 weekday cable news appearances since August 2017, according to Media Matters, a liberal group that monitors conservative media activity.

That makes Gaetz second in Congress only to Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a fellow Trump ally and ubiquitous TV presence.

Through it all, Gaetz has shown no hesitation to criticize fellow Republicans.

In a 2020 tweet, he accused Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., of “screwing all Americans” by dumping stock using insider information as the coronavirus pandemic was starting. The Justice Department investigated Burr but brought no charges.

In Gaetz’s book, in a first chapter called “Sex and Money,” he wrote that when he arrived in Congress, he asked current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for a seat on the Armed Services Committee. Gaetz wrote that “to my shock,” McCarthy suggested he contribute $75,000 to the House GOP’s campaign committee — a donation Gaetz wrote he actually doubled.

This past January, Gaetz helped spearhead an effort to depose Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from her post as No. 3 House GOP leader after she was among 10 Republicans to vote for Trump’s second impeachment.

Gaetz even traveled to a campaign event in Wyoming, where he urged voters to oppose her 2022 reelection and accused her of ignoring “the will of the people.” Days later, Cheney was reelected to her leadership post.

All of that helped alienate him from many Republicans, several GOP lawmakers and aides said.

Among his only defenders this week has been Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who tweeted, “Take it from me rumors and headlines don’t equal truth.” Greene has become a pariah even among some Republicans for showing support for false and violent sentiments.

Having a deep well of support among colleagues can help a beleaguered lawmakers retain their seat should party leaders begin viewing them as a liability. Ominously, McCarthy has called the charges against Gaetz “serious.”

Gaetz has reportedly had inconclusive discussions with Newsmax, a small pro-Trump television outlet, about working for it or another network. A person close to Newsmax said Friday the network has no plans to hire him as a talent.

Florida

Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Proposed Legislation on Teacher’s Bill of Rights

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced an unprecedented legislative proposal to create a Teacher’s Bill of Rights that empowers educators to be leaders in their classrooms, enact paycheck protection, reduce terms for school board members from twelve to eight years, and invest another $1 billion in teacher pay. For more information, click here.
“This is a huge package to increase teacher pay, support teacher empowerment and protect teachers’ paychecks by ensuring they have control over their hard-earned salary,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “We want more transparency into how school unions operate, and we are going to fight against school union haggling that holds teachers and their salary increases hostage. Partisan groups should not be given special privileges.”
“From day one, Governor Ron DeSantis has made it his mission to raise teacher pay and elevate educators in the classroom — and he has succeeded,” said Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. “Today’s announcement goes another step further to provide historic funding for teachers’ salaries and ensure they have control over their classrooms and paychecks.”
Paycheck Protection
The Governor’s proposal will create more accountability and transparency for public sector unions, including K-12 teacher unions and higher education unions. This proposal will require school unions to represent at least 60% of employees eligible for representation, an increase over the current 50% threshold, and allow state investigations into unions suspected of fraud, waste and abuse. Additionally, the proposal will require annual audits and financial disclosures for unions.
To further ensure that school boards are acting in the best interests of Florida’s teachers and students, this proposal reduces term limits for school board members from 12 years to 8 years and seeks to make school board elections a partisan election. A joint resolution for the 2023 Legislative Session has already been filed by Senator Gruters and Representative Roach to begin this process.
Other paycheck protections that would be enacted under this proposal include:
  • Prohibit any union representing public employees from having its dues and assessments deducted by the public employee’s employer.
  • Require employees to submit a form acknowledging that Florida is a right to work state and union participation is optional.
  • Require school unions to annually notify members of the cost of membership.
  • Prohibit the distribution of union materials at the workplace.
  • Union officials cannot be paid more than the highest paid union member.
  • Prohibit union work while on the clock for their taxpayer funded job.
  • Prohibit school board members and superintendents from accepting a personal or work-related benefit such as a secret “office account” from a school union.
Teacher Empowerment
Since the Governor took office, education has been at the forefront of policy making decisions. Florida law currently contains comprehensive legislation related to students’ rights and parents’ rights in education but does not have a clear compilation of teachers’ rights and authorities. This proposal will establish teacher empowerment provisions in law and will include these main provisions:
  • Establish a new process for individuals to notify the state of a violation of teachers’ rights and ensure that the Department of Education can investigate those claims.
  • Empower teachers to maintain safe classroom environments by creating a “stand your ground” classroom safety policy to protect teachers who are often judged unfairly for maintaining order and safety in their classrooms.
  • Clarify that teachers have the choice to join their local teachers union and will not face any repercussions if they opt not to join.
  • Providing civil remedies for teachers who are asked to violate Florida law and punished by their employers for standing up for what is right.
Raising Teacher Pay
Since 2020, the Governor has secured more than $2 billion in funding for teacher pay, the largest pay increase for teachers in Florida history. This funding has allowed Florida to achieve an average starting teacher salary of $48,000 for the 2022-2023 school year, meeting and exceeding Florida’s goal of an average starting teacher salary of $47,500. The Governor is proposing an additional $200 million to continue raising teacher pay, bringing the total to $1 billion for teacher pay in his recommended budget for the next year.
This $200 million increase over the current year’s budget will be provided to school districts with maximum flexibility to best fit the school district’s needs. School districts will be able to apply the funding to continue raising starting teacher salaries or to provide salary increases for veteran teachers and other eligible instructional personnel.
No eligible full-time classroom teacher will receive a base salary less than the minimum base salary established during the 2022-2023 school year.

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Former State Representative Daisy Morales statement about the mass shooting in Monterey Park, California

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State Rep. Daisy Morales. Photo: Florida House of Representatives.

ORLANDO, Fla. (January 22, 2023) – Former State Representative Daisy Morales, the 2022 sponsor of the Active Shooter Alert System legislation (HB 1271), issued the following statement about the mass shooting in Monterey Park, California that left 10 dead and 10 wounded.

Former Florida State Representative Daisy Morales’ statement:

“I am horrified and deeply saddened to learn about the attack in Monterey Park following the 2023 Lunar New Year festival. I condemn this terrible and senseless act of violence against the Asian American community.

“America is becoming a country where human life doesn’t matter to some lawmakers over senseless gun violence. Lawmakers have a constitutional duty to build a safer future for all Americans and my Active Shooter Alert System legislation will do that.

“I look forward to working with state law enforcement officials, the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and state lawmakers to reintroduce this lifesaving piece of legislation during the 2023 Legislative Session.”

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Florida

Florida high court OKs grand jury probe of COVID-19 vaccines

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FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas. Gov. DeSantis said Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022 that he plans to petition the state's Supreme Court to convene a grand jury to investigate “any and all wrongdoing” with respect to the COVID-19 vaccines. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

TALLAHASSEE (AP) — The Florida Supreme Court will convene a grand jury at Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request to investigate any wrongdoing with respect to the COVID-19 vaccines, the court announced Thursday.

The Republican governor, who is often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2024, earlier this month called for the investigation. He suggested it would be in part aimed to jog loose more information from pharmaceutical companies about the vaccines and potential side effects.

Vaccine studies funded by pharmaceutical companies that developed COVID-19 vaccines have been published in peer-reviewed journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, and government panels reviewed data on the safety and effectiveness of the shots before approving them for use.

DeSantis’ request argues that pharmaceutical companies had a financial interest in creating a climate in which people believed that getting a coronavirus vaccine would ensure they couldn’t spread the virus to others.

Statewide grand juries, usually comprised of 18 people, can investigate criminal activity and issue indictments but also examine systemic problems in Florida and make recommendations. Recent panels have tackled immigration issues and school safety.

The grand jury will meet for one year.

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