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Jennifer Zimmerman, Matt Gaetz

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Jennifer Zimmerman questions Matt Gaetz whereabouts during Michael

Democratic congressional challenger Jennifer Zimmerman took a swipe at Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz for heading to Washington, D.C. as his district faced a storm.

But officials with Gaetz’s office say he likely better serves constituents from the capitol — he meets with the FEMA director on storm response today — and the congressman has suggested that the best place for a congressman in a storm may be in the District of Columbia coordinating the response effort.

Zimmerman, who seeks to unseat Gaetz as representative for Florida’s 1st Congressional District this November, tweeted last night it was “not in her nature” to leave the district as Hurricane Michael threatened the region because she felt a personal responsibility to the people of Northwest Florida.

She clarified to Florida Politics that yes, she did intend to contrast that to Gaetz,

“He flew to Washington right before the storm and bragged about flying coach,” she said. “In the meantime, not only did I stay, I reached out to District 2.”

Gaetz flew from Orlando to Washington, D.C., as noted by Politico’s Jake Sherman.

When Sherman noted that on Twitter, Gaetz responded that he flew “in coach.”

Before that, Gaetz had been on the campaign trail with Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, and he’d flown to Washington principally to hear testimony from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That meeting ultimately never took place.

But, staffers said, the congressman’s Washington office quickly became the “war room” for Hurricane Michael.

With the district offices in Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach closed down, all calls from constituents forwarded to the Cannon House Office Building.

Zimmerman said voters should contrast how she handled the storm. A pediatrician by trade, she held donation drives at her former Kidscare Pediatrics office in Pace to help storm survivors while Gaetz headed to Washington for an interview many dismiss as politically motivated.

But Gaetz will be meeting the director of FEMA today. And of note, just a few months ago he defended Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy when a Republican opponent ran attack ads critiquing her for staying in Washington during Hurricane Irma.

Whether he grabs Brock Long by the throat today, time will tell. But staffers say there will plenty of demands for FEMA services on the Gulf Coast, and making sure those needs get met will often demand Gaetz’s presence in Washington.

Gaetz staffers also note the preparations and immediate response to hurricanes fall under the jurisdiction of local and state officials, while the aftermath and recovery demand more attention from the federal government.

While district staffers went to shelters to speak with those affected by the storm, the vast majority of instant response to the storm will be handled by law enforcement or by county-led emergency management teams.

In any case, Gaetz does plan to return to the district tomorrow to assist with cleanup efforts in the Panhandle. And with the devastation from Michael becoming clearer every hour, it seems there could be FEMA efforts for years to come, regardless which candidate wins this Congressional seat a few weeks from now.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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