Don Gaetz

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Don Gaetz
Don Gaetz (R-4th).jpg
President of the Florida Senate
In office
November 20, 2012 – November 18, 2014
Preceded byMike Haridopolos
Succeeded byAndy Gardiner
Member of the Florida Senate
In office
November 7, 2006 – November 8, 2016
Preceded byCharlie Clary
Succeeded byRedistricted
Constituency4th district (2006–2012)
1st district (2012–2016)
Personal details
Born (1948-01-22) January 22, 1948 (age 75)
Rugby, North Dakota, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseVictoria Quertermous
Children2, including Matt
ParentJerry Gaetz (father)
Alma materConcordia College (BA)
Troy State University (MPA)
ProfessionHealthcare executive

Donald Jay Gaetz (/ˈɡts/ GAYTS; born January 22, 1948) is a Republican politician who served as a member of the Florida State Senate from 2006 to 2016, representing parts of Northwest Florida. He was Senate president from 2012 to 2014. He is the father of Congressman Matt Gaetz.

Early life and career[edit]

Gaetz was born in Rugby, North Dakota, the son of Olive (Knutson) and Jerry Gaetz, a former mayor of the city and a state legislator.[1] Jerry Gaetz was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor of North Dakota at the 1964 North Dakota Republican Party state convention, where he died of a heart attack while his son watched television coverage of the event.[2][3]

Gaetz attended the Evangelical Lutheran-affiliated Concordia College, graduating with his bachelor's degree in religion and political science, and then Troy State University, receiving his Master of Public Administration in education before moving to the state of Florida in 1978.


Shortly after receiving his Master's degree, Gaetz worked in Jacksonville as a hospital administrator, and lobbied the legislature to create hospice care programs for the dying. In 1983, Gaetz founded VITAS Healthcare Corporation with a group of investors, which he later sold for nearly half a billion dollars in 2004.[2]

Okaloosa County School Board[edit]

In 1994, Gaetz ran for the Okaloosa County School Board, receiving the Republican nomination and then challenging incumbent school board member Jean Long, the Democratic nominee, and Susan Matuska, the Libertarian nominee, in the general election. He ended up winning in a landslide, receiving 69% of the vote to Long's 20% and Matuska's 11%.[4]

During his first term, Gaetz campaigned for a one-cent sales tax to fund school construction and renovation, which was easily approved by the county's voters in a 1995 special election.[5]

In 1997, he called for an investigation into the conduct of a vice-principal at Niceville High School, where his son went to school, after reports surfaced of the vice-principal promoting his religious beliefs while working at the school. Following his call for an investigation, which he said was warranted by the vice-principal's attempts "to make people who didn't share his views feel as though they were somehow second-class Christians or that they were in danger of damnation," he said, "I have received death threats from individuals who mistakenly believe the way to advance their own particular brand of Christianity is to threaten the life of someone who is a Christian not of their particular kind."[6]

When he ran for re-election in 1998, Gaetz was opposed by only Republican candidate James Campbell, whom he defeated in an open primary with 67% of the vote.[7]

Gaetz opted to run for Okaloosa County superintendent of schools in 2000, and faced David Morgan, the principal of Niceville High School,[8] in the Republican primary. He defeated Morgan handily, winning 68% of the vote and advancing to the general election, where he was opposed by William Lynch, the Democratic nominee, and John Hughes, an independent candidate. Neither Lynch nor Hughes posed a significant challenge to Gaetz, and he won his first term with 75% of the vote to Lynch's 18% and Hughes' 7%.[9] He was unopposed for re-election in 2004.[10] During his time as superintendent, the Okaloosa County School District increased from twenty-seventh in the state in student performance to first.[11]

Florida Senate[edit]

When incumbent state senator Charlie Clary was unable to seek re-election in 2006 due to term limits, Gaetz ran to succeed him in the 4th District, which stretched from Pensacola to Panama City, including parts of southern Bay County, Escambia County, Okaloosa County, Santa Rosa County, and Walton County. He was initially set to face state representative Holly Benson in the Republican primary,[12] but Benson ultimately declined to run, and Gaetz won the nomination, and then the general election, unopposed.

During his first term in the Senate, Gaetz served as Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and attracted headlines when he attacked a Florida Department of Education official over a teacher bonus initiative.[11] Gaetz sponsored legislation that would have expanded Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test material to include social studies, broadened the group of people determining state standards, granted honors diplomas to high-achieving test takers, and taught world languages in elementary schools.[13] He was re-elected without opposition in 2010.

In 2012, following the reconfiguration of the state's legislative districts, Gaetz was drawn into the 1st District, which included much of the territory that he had previously represented but dropped the extension into Pensacola for an inclusion of Holmes County, Jackson County, and Washington County. He won the Republican nomination uncontested; in the general election he faced independent candidate Richard Harrison. Gaetz campaigned on his grassroots efforts to introduce himself to potentially new constituents in the district and attacked his opponent for his "misunderstanding of the legislative process."[10] Ultimately, Gaetz was re-elected in a landslide, winning 74% of the vote to Harrison's 26%.[14]

This house served as Truman's home in the 1998 film, The Truman Show. The house is owned by the Gaetz family.

Gaetz served as the president of the Florida Senate from 2012–2014.[15]

Gaetz received a 100% rating from the National Rifle Association.[citation needed]

After Senate[edit]

He was appointed by the Senate to the Constitution Revision Commission and by the House of Representatives as a member and current chairman of Triumph Gulf Coast, a $1.5 billion economic development and recovery fund for coastal Northwest Florida. He was also appointed by the President of the Senate to serve on the Florida Commission on Ethics until 2024. [16]

Stephen Alford[edit]

Florida businessman Stephen Alford pleaded guilty in a $25 million extortion plot targeting Don Gaetz in a convoluted scheme to secure a presidential pardon for Gaetz's son, Matt, who came under investigation regarding allegations of sex trafficking. Alford later told investigators that he lied to the Gaetz's about the pardon.

On August 22, 2022, U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers sentenced Alford (aged 62) to 63 months plus three years supervised release after he pleaded guilty in 2021 to one count of wire fraud.[17]

Fraud lawsuit[edit]

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against VITAS for allegedly committing Medicare fraud since 2002, when Gaetz still worked at the company. Gaetz denied any role in any wrongdoing that occurred.[18] The case was settled in January 2018 with a confidential settlement.[19]

Personal life[edit]

Gaetz and his wife, Victoria (née Quertermous) reside in Seaside, Florida, in a house that was used in the film The Truman Show; a sign on their white picket fence says "the Truman house".[20] Gaetz has two children; his son, Matt Gaetz, currently serves as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and his daughter, Erin, was director of digital content for Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential campaign.[21]


  1. ^ LLC, Marquis Who's Who (Jun 2, 1984). Who's Who in the South and Southwest, 1984-1985. Marquis Who's Who. ISBN 9780837908199. Retrieved Jun 2, 2021 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Shannon (March 30, 2008). "GOP lawmaker Don Gaetz is rising fast as a state Senate leader". Tampa Bay Times. Archived from the original on October 6, 2015. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  3. ^ Fineout, Gary (April 17, 2021). "How 'Papa Gaetz' tells you everything you need to know about Matt Gaetz". Politico PRO. Retrieved April 19, 2021.
  4. ^ "Okaloosa County, General Election November 8, 1994". Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  5. ^ "Okaloosa first in sales tax for schools only". The Ledger. May 18, 1995. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  6. ^ Kaczor, Bill (November 9, 1997). "High school torn apart by religious-rights battle". Ocala Star-Banner. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  7. ^ "(09/01/1998) 1st Republican Primary Election". Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  8. ^ "Today in Local History - February 12". Northwest Florida Daily News. February 12, 2012. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  9. ^ "(11/07/2000) General Election". Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  10. ^ a b McLaughlin, Tom (October 8, 2012). "Gaetz faces challenger for first time in 12 years". Northwest Florida Daily News. Retrieved May 20, 2015.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ a b Matus, Ron (February 26, 2007). "He wants results, not more red tape". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  12. ^ "Big bucks flowing to state Senate primary in the Panhandle". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. July 18, 2005. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  13. ^ Scott, Anna (April 27, 2007). "Overhaul proposed for educational standards". The Gainesville Sun. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  14. ^ "November 6, 2012 General Election, State Senator District: 1". Florida Department of State Division of Elections. Retrieved May 20, 2015.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ "Florida Senate Handbook, 2012-2014" (PDF). Florida Senate Archive. Florida Senate. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  16. ^ "Members - Ethics". Retrieved 2023-04-17.
  17. ^ Florida man sentenced to 5 years in plot to extort Matt Gaetz's father, Accessed August 26, 2022.
  18. ^ Klas, Mary Ellen (May 3, 2013). "Lawsuit accuses Senate President Don Gaetz's former company of Medicaid fraud". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  19. ^ "Docket for United States v. VITAS Hospice Services, L.L.C., 4:13-cv-00449 -". CourtListener.
  20. ^ Zak, Dan (February 20, 2018). "Rep. Matt Gaetz wants you to know who he is, and his plan is working". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 24, 2019.
  21. ^ Buzzacco-Foerster, Jenna (December 21, 2016). "Erin Gaetz launches her own digital content firm". Florida Politics. Retrieved October 24, 2019.

External links[edit]

Florida Senate
Preceded by
Charlie Clary
Member of the Florida Senate
from the 4th district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the Florida Senate
from the 1st district

Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by President of the Florida Senate
Succeeded by