Matt Gaetz challenges Democratic congressional opponent to debate over cross on public land
Pensacola's Bayview Park Cross

Bayview Park Cross

Rep. Matt Gaetz is known for his combative debate style on the floor of the Florida House. Now, he says he’d like to take it to the congressional campaign trail.

The Fort Walton Beach Republican and 1st Congressional District candidate challenged Democratic opponent Amanda Kondrat’yev to a debate over the Bayview Park Cross, a religious symbol which has sat on public land in Pensacola for five decades.

Kondrat’yev, a left leaning self-described “Berniecrat,” objects to what she says is a violation of the legal principle of separation of church and state. She is one of a number of complainants named in a federal lawsuit led by humanist and secular groups filed earlier this month which aims to remove it.

Gaetz said Monday her objection to the large white cross which commands the landscape at Pensacola’s Bayview Park is wrong and out of step with the voters of CD 1 — and he’d like to prove it in a formal debate with Kondrat’yev at the site of the cross.

“Religious freedom is one our most basic rights as Americans. I hope Mrs. Kondrat’yev will accept my challenge and join me in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate in front of the Bayview Park Cross to provide the public with a full and meaningful discussion of this important issue,” said Gaetz.

“The Bayview Park Cross has been an important part of the Pensacola community for over 50 years. In Northwest Florida, we have a deep and abiding faith in God, and we enjoy exercising our right to religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. Now, our religious liberty is under attack by far-left liberals like Amanda Kondrat’yev, who filed a lawsuit to remove the cross at Bayview Park. I believe this lawsuit is outrageous and challenge Mrs. Kondrat’yev to a debate in front of the Bayview Park Cross,” Gaetz continued.

The debate would give Gaetz a chance to display his oratorical chops before a broader audience than his state House District 4 constituency, which lies in the eastern half of CD 1.

Debate or none, Kondrat’yev faces long odds in assuming the reins from retiring U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, who is serving out his final term. The western Panhandle seat features one of the most GOP-leaning electorates in Florida, with President Barack Obama garnering less than a third of the vote there in 2012.

Gaetz faces Milton Sen. Greg Evers in a heated Republican primary to replace Miller. The August GOP primary will almost certainly decide the district’s next representative.

Ryan Ray

Ryan Ray covers politics and public policy in North Florida and across the state. He has also worked as a legislative researcher and political campaign staffer. He can be reached at [email protected].


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