MILTON — Matt Gaetz will make his first stop as congressman next week in Milton to hear thoughts and concerns from his constituents.
"It's the inaugural 'Open Gaetz,'" he said Monday. "There's many more to come."
On Feb. 23, the freshman Republican representing Florida's 1st congressional district will tour the Milton area. He will also make stops, starting with coffee at the Kiwanis clubs of Milton and Pace and ending with a town hall gathering at Oops Alley Bowling and Restaurant.
While many of his supporters will attend, local Democrats said they plan to have a peaceful protest against the congressman at his noon stop at Grover T's BBQ Restaurant.
Frost Jones, of Destin, plans to be there representing the local group, Progressives Northwest Florida. She said there won't be any "yelling or screaming" but "respectful conversation."
"We have not had the privilege of speaking with (Matt Gaetz) personally," she said. "Not everyone is opposed to him, but are opposed to his legislation."
Gaetz said he's not surprised by the dissenters and in fact, welcomes them.
"A peaceful protest is the sign of a healthy democracy," he said. "There's a national movement going on to disrupt Republicans.The goal is (to) intimidate Republicans into keeping Obamacare. It doesn't bother me ... it also doesn't work on me."
A Facebook page announcing the protest was created shortly after Gaetz introduced a bill that calls for the Environmental Protection Act to be dissolved by the end of 2018. Gaetz said he believes that won't be the only criticism he'll hear.
"I'm sure there will be a cornucopia of objections," he said.
Jones said she would like to talk to Gaetz about the Affordable Care Act, LGBT rights and the proposed Mexico border wall, among other things. However, the prospect of dismantling the EPA has some "fired up," she said.
"In Florida particularly ... there needs to be checks and balances to protect the environment," she said. "If we lose those protections things can go awry."
Gaetz said he's seen a lot of opinions about his proposed bill to abolish the EPA on his Facebook page and that his position has gained him attention nationwide. His office has sent out surveys asking constituents if they agreed with his proposed bill to abolish the EPA. The results are not in yet, he said.
In the meantime, Gaetz said he looks forward to spending time in Milton and hearing the good and the bad from Northwest Florida residents.
"Listening to constituents and allowing folks to yell at you is part of my job," he said. "I volunteered for this. I don't mind."