Phil Ehr: “I can offer this entire district a more objective approach to solving problems."

To secure a seat in Congress, Republican Matt Gaetz had to defeat a savvy military veteran running as a Democrat who was openly critical of what he called Gaetz’s radical ideas.

He’ll have to travel the same course if he wants to return to Washington for a second term.

Gaetz handily defeated Air Force veteran Steven Specht last November to gain the right to replace fellow Republican Jeff Miller in the U.S. House.

Phil Ehr, a retired Navy pilot who answers to Mustang, formally announced Monday that he will run as a Democrat to unseat Gaetz in 2018. The announcement was made at a small ceremony in Pensacola's Veterans Memorial Park.

A previously registered Republican, Ehr said he no longer can stand on the sidelines and watch what the current administration, and his own elected representative, are doing to the country.

“The generation that gave us victory in World War II had a vision of the future that has served America well, that of a world order that serves human rights,” he said. “I don’t see that in the current Republican Party. I don’t see that in our administration or our representative.”

Ehr, 56, left the Navy after 26 years having achieved the rank of commander. He said the military trained him to solve problems and deliver solutions.

“I can offer this entire district a more objective approach to solving problems,” he said.

He said his focus will be on low- and middle-income people, and not on providing health care plans that give tax beaks to people who can afford good insurance in the misguided hope that this will somehow help those less affluent.

Asked if he can win election in one of the most solidly Republican House districts in the country, Ehr retorted, “in case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of people not happy with the current quality of representation.”

He contended that voters are ready to step away from the “extreme radical ideology Mr. Gaetz gives us.”

He offered Gaetz’s support of abolishing the federal role in environmental protection, doing away federal support for public education and pulling the U.S. from the United Nations as the kind of radicalism his likely 2018 opponent espouses.

In 2016, just weeks before he secured 67 percent of the vote to defeat Specht, Gaetz opined “I don’t think the Democratic challenger presents a challenge in Florida’s First Congressional District.” .

He wasn’t ready to restate that position Thursday, and in fact said he’s content for now just to be doing the job he was elected to do.

“Honestly, I must be the only one not focusing on the 2018 election. I’ve barely got my bags unpacked in Washington,” Gaetz said. “I’ve served for seven years as a (Florida state House) conservative. I am who I am and I’m going to run on my record, as I always have.”