Rep. Matt Gaetz took to Facebook Live on Thursday night from his parents' living room in Walton County to defend his lone no vote on an anti-human trafficking bill that passed both houses of Congress on Dec. 19.
The bill, known as the Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act, designates a human trafficking prevention coordinator at the U.S. Department of Transportation and creates a committee in the department to develop best practices for states and transportation groups to combat human trafficking.
Cris Dosev, who is running against Gaetz in the 2018 Republican primary, blasted Gaetz's no vote on the bill in a press release Wednesday calling it "tone deaf."
"That Matt Gaetz could vote against a law to fight human trafficking and sex slave trade is beyond comprehension," Dosev said in the release. "What was he thinking?"
Dosev, a retired Marine and Pensacola real estate developer, came in third in the 2016 Republican primary with nearly 21 percent of the vote behind the late State Sen. Greg Evers who had 22 percent of the vote. Gaetz won the primary with 36 percent of the vote.
In the release, Dosev said the bipartisan bill brings together law enforcement and anti-trafficking groups together to pool information and resources.
"This is something military and business organizations do every day to improve critical outcomes," Dosev said in the release. "It's basic management 101."
In his Facebook Live broadcast, Gaetz defended his vote by first pointing to his role as chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee in the Florida Legislature where he helped make it easier for prosecutors to bring cases against human traffickers in Florida.
"Where there is a necessity to change legal standards to bring prosecutions against human traffickers, I'm all in," Gaetz said. "And I've been very successful in implementing that legislation here in our own state."
Gaetz said he voted no because, despite best intentions of the bill, it represented "mission creep" at the federal level in creating the committee.
"Unless there is an overwhelming, compelling reason that our existing agencies in the federal government can't handle that problem, I vote no because voters in Northwest Florida did not send me to Washington to go and create more federal government," Gaetz said. "If anything, we should be abolishing a lot of the agencies at the federal level like the Department of Education, like the EPA and sending that power back to our state governments."
Without mentioning Dosev's name directly, Gaetz hit back against his Republican opponent.
"I found it a bit comical that this Republican running against me in the primary in 2018 thought that this was the issue to attack me on," Gaetz said. "He apparently takes the view that we really do need to address our problems with more government. And so, if that's your view, if your view is we've got to grow government to solve our problems rather than prioritizing the entities that we already have, well I assure you there's a candidate out there for you, but It's not me."
Dosev said in his press release Gaetz appears more focused on media attention than representing the district.
"It's the latest in a growing list of strange votes by Matt Gaetz, who appears to be more focused on television appearances than advancing legislation that benefits this district and country," Dosev said.
Jim Little can be reached at 850-208-9827 or at