When Rep. Matt Gaetz looks at his freshman class colleagues, he sees some pretty extraordinary people.
“I’m fairly certain that I’m the least interesting member of the freshman class,” the Florida Republican said. “We go to a lot of these events with our freshman colleagues and [they say],‘I was a four-star general,’ ‘I built a $50-million-dollar business,’ ‘I was an ambassador.’”
Gaetz, who practiced law and served in the Florida Legislature, said, “I really revel in the experiences of my colleagues more than in my own.”
Still, the freshman congressman stands out when it comes to his positions on pets, guns and drugs.
“I just thought, man, I expanded gun rights and passed medical marijuana laws, so I guess if people are into animals, guns and weed, I’m your guy,” Gaetz said.
He is the rare lawmaker to earn both an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and an endorsement from the Humane Society of the United States’ political arm. While those nods may seem at odds, Gaetz doesn’t see it that way.
“You just got to find room in your heart to love the Constitution and the creatures you share the planet with,” he said. “There’s room for both.”
He earned his A+ rating during his six years in the Florida House of Representatives. He was chairman of the Ways & Means Committee for two years and chairman of the Judiciary Criminal Justice Subcommittee for two years before that.
“I regularly carry bills to enhance gun rights, but also to protect the welfare of animals,” he said.
His support for firearms comes from his strong belief in the Second Amendment, while his support for animals comes from his upbringing.
“My mother raised my sister and I to believe you can judge any person by how they treat innocent and defenseless animals, so we’ve always had rescue pets in our home growing up,” he said.
He now has his own rescue animals at home in Florida — two dogs named Scarlett O’Hara and Stella, named after characters from “Gone with the Wind” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and a cat named Tucker.
Gaetz also involved himself with animal welfare advocacy issues in Florida.
So far in Congress, Gaetz has thrown his support behind a pair of bills to protect animals. The PUPPERS Act, introduced by Republican Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia, would prohibit taxpayers’ money from being spent on painful experiments on dogs at any Veterans Affairs facilities.
He also supports Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Brendan F. Boyle’s Pet Safety and Protection Act, which amends the Animal Welfare Act to revise the list of permissible sources of dogs and cats that can be used at research facilities.
Meanwhile, he led the fight to allow open-carry laws while he was in the state House, and his congressional campaign materials billed him as “Northwest Florida’s Pro-Gun Champion.” He has yet to say whether he supports restrictions or a ban on bump stocks, the device that the Las Vegas shooter used last month to increase the rate of fire of his semiautomatic weapons.
Gaetz also led efforts to legalize medical marijuana use while in the Florida state House and reschedule it from a Schedule I drug, like heroin, to Schedule III, which includes less-addictive drugs.
He introduced an amendment to this year’s omnibus spending bill to protect medical marijuana research. It didn’t get approved, but would have provided protections for researchers of Schedule I substances in states that have legalized medical cannabis.Watch: Ready or Not, Here It Comes Again: ‘11/8/16’