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Matt Gaetz to rally base ahead of Stand Your Ground hearing

Published Aug. 22, 2013

Rep. Matt Gaetz has already said he wouldn't change "one damn comma" of Stand Your Ground, a comment that left critics wondering if they'll get a fair shake when the committee Gaetz is chairman of holds a hearing on the self-defense law.

Now this: Gaetz will host a conference call that is being promoted as a strategy session ahead of the hearing. "All Republican, tea party, 9/12 groups" are invited to join the call, giving critics of the law another reason to question whether Gaetz really intends to oversee an honest review.

"If he's the chairman, he's supposed to be fair and balanced and open," said Rep. Alan Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat who filed legislation to repeal Stand Your Ground. "You would think one would try to get as much information from both sides."

Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said he is listening to both sides when it comes to the controversial law that gained national attention after George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. After Zimmerman successfully argued he feared for his life and was acquitted of all charges, the Dream Defenders held a 31-day sit-in at the Capitol to protest the verdict and call for changes to Stand Your Ground, among other issues.

"Particularly on the Stand Your Ground issue, I encounter people everyday who have a viewpoint, and most folks aren't shy about sharing it with me," Gaetz said. He added that he also won't shrink from sharing his own views, but that doesn't mean he isn't making an attempt to have a fair and open hearing.

Not everyone is calling foul on Gaetz's conference call. Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith said Gaetz is simply doing what shrewd elected officials do.

"I talk to my interest groups, I talk to the NAACP, and I'm sure we'll talk to the Dream Defenders and others," the Fort Lauderdale Democrat said. "Everyone talks to their base going into hearings, so quite honestly it is what I expect of him."

Gaetz hasn't decided when the hearing will be held. He hasn't even confirmed that the first week of the Legislature's return -- the week of Sept. 23 -- is the best time to do it. He is working with Rep. Irv Slosberg, the ranking Democrat on the Criminal Justice Subcommitee, to iron out how it will be structured.

But Gaetz did clear up one thing: this business of debating Dream Defenders executive director Phillip Agnew.

Agnew will be allowed to voice his opinions during the public comment portion of the hearing, Gaetz said. It will be recorded and televised just like other high-profile committee meetings. That meets the intent of what he agreed to via a Twitter exchange with Agnew, Gaetz said.

"This is not the high school debate club; Mr. Agnew is not the student council president," Gaetz said. "Call it debate, call it public testimony, whatever you want to call it."

On Aug. 4, Agnew asked Gaetz via his @philunchained Twitter account to a "tv debate on #standyourground." The next day, Gaetz replied via his @mattgaetz account: "Looking forward to it."


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