NAVARRE — The sound of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" was coupled with applause and cheers from some 200 people as Matt Gaetz entered the back porch of Dewey Destin's restaurant Saturday morning.
"Thank y'all for coming," the congressman said before kicking off the event with a prayer and pledge of allegiance.
"I wanted to start by sharing with you how great it is to be back in Navarre," Gaetz said as the crowd cheered. "The last time I was in Navarre a few of you may have been with me, and I had some friends: the 45th governor of the state of Florida Ron DeSantis was here in Navarre."
Gaetz praised DeSantis, adding that the most rewarding task as a public official has been serving as chairman of DeSantis transition team.
"I believe we've built a government worthy of the people of our great state, and we did so with a few organizing principles: the first, it did not matter to us whether people were for DeSantis or against DeSantis when we asked him to serve in our government," Gaetz said.
Gaetz spoke often about the military, stating that Florida is the most military friendly state in the United States.
"I have recently spoken out a great deal about our foreign policy and our military engagement," he said. "I know that if Northwest Floridians are sent into the fight, we'll go first, we'll fight the hardest and we'll earn decisive victory every single time. But that does not mean that our community needs to be sent to be the policeman of the world."
Topics addressed the meeting ranged from the opioid crisis to traffic congestion in Northwest Florida to legalizing medical marijuana, of which Gaetz has been an avid supporter.
One woman expressed concern to the congressman about students who don't know the pledge of allegiance and national anthem.
"When you go to a high school football game, nobody sings the words. Everybody just stands there like a dummy," she said before Gaetz asked her to lead the crowd in the song.
One man asked Gaetz to not support medical marijuana because he feared that would lead to recreational legalization.
"I don't know what you're fixation is on legalizing marijuana," the man said. "I don't want this to be Colorado. I don't think it helps anything."
"I have never advocated for the recreation legalization of marijuana, but I don't believe that the role of government is to stand between the doctor and the patient," Gaetz replied.
In an interview later, Gaetz spoke of the $19.1 billion disaster aid bill that has passed the Senate but is stalled in the House.
"It's crazy that Nancy Pelosi would schedule a $16 billion dollar vote in the absence of members of Congress participating in that process, so I'm hopeful that when we get back to Washington on Monday that we'll immediately take up disaster response," Gaetz said.
The session in Navarre was the first stop during Gaetz's "Won't Back Down" Town Hall Tour. He visited Pensacola and DeFuniak Springs later Saturday.