Matt Gaetz is an attorney with the firm of Keefe, Anchors, Gordon and Moyle in Fort Walton Beach. Serving his community and advocating for his neighbors has been his passion since early childhood.
The son of Don and Vicky Gaetz, Matt grew up in our community — graduating from Bluewater Elementary School, Ruckel Middle School and Niceville High School. While in high school he won the state policy debate championship and was ranked as one of the top debaters in the country, a skill he took to Florida State University where he achieved national and international honors. Matt earned his way through college with academic scholarships.
As a college student Matt was troubled by the left-wing bias on campus so he founded his own center-right campus political party, which won every election during his time at FSU and for years afterward.
Gaetz was designated by the FSU Board of Trustees to serve on the selection committee that chose the university’s president.
He honed his interest in government as head of FSU’s student lobbying organization with the Legislature, fighting for Bright Futures Scholarships and higher academic standards. He served as a legislative intern in the Florida House of Representatives and Senate, helping constituents solve problems with state agencies and preparing legislators to support conservative bills. He graduated from FSU with a degree in social science with concentrations in Political Science, History and Geography
Gaetz graduated from the nation’s oldest law school at the College of William and Mary with a juris doctor degree and was a finalist in moot court competition.
Matt Gaetz is no stranger to political campaigns. At age 11 he represented his father, Don, then a candidate for the Okaloosa School Board, in a public forum at Okaloosa-Walton Community College. After the young Gaetz finished speaking to huge applause, the elder Gaetz’s opponent could only shake her head and say, “Next time send your father. Please.”
Matt has been at his dad’s side in five winning campaigns — twice for county school board, twice for superintendent of schools and once for the Florida Senate. In 2006, the state Republican Party asked Matt to help manage some of the toughest races faced by House candidates that year.
In recent years, Matt Gaetz has gained public notice as an attorney leading fights for open government and against needless tax increases. In 2008 he earned the nickname “tax killer” in the Northwest Florida Daily News for his successful campaign to convince the Fort Walton Beach City Council to reverse a property tax increase.
“When people have less, government should have less,” Gaetz told the Council as he presented more than 500 anti-tax increase petitions gathered from city residents.
The young lawyer endeared himself to pet owners when he opposed a County Commission plan to impose a tax on household pets. Some commissioners wanted to force veterinarians to turn over their records to the county so tax collectors would know who had pets. Gaetz’s firm volunteered at no cost to oppose the plan and Matt drafted the court order that stopped the Okaloosa pet tax.
“If government is even going to tax pets, I told my dog ‘Scarlet’ she might have to get a paper route,” Gaetz quipped. “When ‘Scarlet’ growled in protest, I knew I had to win this issue.”
When taxpayers seeking public records were stonewalled by local government, Gaetz forced bureaucrats and politicians to be accountable and open their books. For his successful efforts in promoting integrity and transparency in government, Matt was recently honored by the Walton County Taxpayers Association.
Many area residents know Matt as the chief litigator to bring the F-35 to Eglin AFB. When the City of Valparaiso filed for an injunction to stop all F-35′s from coming to Eglin, Gaetz and his law firm volunteered to intervene FOR the F-35 and to show support for the Air Force. Though the fight isn’t over yet, it’s now assured that at least 59 F-35′s will come to our area, bringing thousands of new good-paying jobs and saving the jobs of many existing defense contractors. Gaetz’s advocacy for the F-35 has been at no cost to taxpayers.
One of the greatest joys in Matt’s life is his work with “Trendsetters,” a group of struggling students at Pryor Middle School. Matt joined in founding the mentoring program through which young professionals and business people volunteer every week to help students succeed academically and practice good citizenship. One of the students Matt personally mentors won the school’s “Turnaround Achievement Award” last year.
Matt and his sister, Erin, a graduate of Choctawhatchee High School and the University of Virginia, annually donate a four-year college scholarship to a disadvantaged but promising Okaloosa student. Erin is an editorial producer for major league baseball www.mlb.com in New York City. The scholarship is in honor of their mom, Vicky, who grew up in Fort Walton Beach
Despite being paralyzed with a spinal cord injury over 20 years ago, Vicky became an award-winning Girl Scout leader, officer in the Valparaiso-Niceville Girls Softball Association, room mother, school volunteer and neighborhood association president.
As Matt, a self-declared ‘momma’s boy’ says, “She is the rock of our family and the inspiration of our lives.”
Matt is active in a number of community organizations, including the Niceville-Valparaiso, Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Navarre chambers of commerce.
Matt is a member of First Baptist Church of Fort Walton Beach.
He is a member of the board of directors of the Emerald Coast Marine Institute, an educational facility that seeks to turn around the lives of troubled youth. Matt is a Lifetime Member of the National Rifle Association.
Matt Gaetz resides at 301 Brooks Street in Fort Walton Beach.