When It Comes To Education, Too Many Legislators Just Don’t Get It

It was several years ago, I don’t remember how many.  But it doesn’t matter.  What does it that I remember the moments like they were yesterday.  I talked to the principals of two Montgomery elementary schools.  Both with about 500 students.

However, that’s where the similarities ended.  One was a magnet school.  One was a traditional school with a high rate of student  poverty.  I asked the principals of each how many members their PTAs had.  One had 800.  “We have all the mamas and daddies and most of the grandparents” I was told

It was a very different story at the other school where they had ONE parent member of the PTA.

Two entirely different cultures at these schools. One with a PTA that raises thousands of dollars each year to provide needed resources.  The other with no such support system.

And this is what most legislators seem to be clueless about.  It’s one reason I have suggested that every member of the legislature should spend at least four hours as a teacher’s aide in a classroom at a high poverty school.

Instead of trying to figure out where the blood is coming from, all we’re doing is looking for band-aides.

So we get things being considered in this legislative session like the bill by Senator Del March that says that any child can attend school in any system they wish to–so long as their parent pays “tuition” that equals the amount of local funding that system gets.  Which would be about $7,000 per student for someone going to a Mountain Brook school.

Or we get the bill from Representative Terri Collins that would give more funding to charter schools.  Or the one from Representative Charlotte Meadows to divert more money from public schools so that the Alabama Accountability Act can give out more scholarships to private schools–even though studies by the University of Alabama show these scholarship students are performing no better than their peers in public schools.

We’re simply tinkering around the edges.  Just moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.  Just scrambling for more band-aides, and ignoring the real problems of that school with one parent in their PTA.

We love to talk about “failing schools” in Alabama.  Each year we designate about 75 of them.  But we don’t have “failing schools,” we have “failing school communities.”

And in a high poverty schools, we think teachers can solve all the problems.  Which is about as realistic as thinking Nick Saban could be head coach at Vanderbilt and still win the national championship.  Why is Saban such a good coach?  It begins with him getting the top players in the country.  In 2020 his recruiting class was ranked number two in the nation, while Vanderbilt’s was ranked no 53.

So when we bring up bills like those above, we are mistakenly thinking that football players at Vandy are as good as those at Bama.  That they can run as fast, are as big and strong and blessed with as much overall athletic ability.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Still, we constantly hear legislators talk about how they want to give kids from poor homes an option.  Is it realistic to think that parents who won’t even join a PTA, will come up with $7,000 a year to send their child to a Mountain Brook school?

(And don’t forget that when the Alabama Accountability Act was first passed it said kids in “failing schools” could transfer to other systems.  This quickly sent a chill through Birmingham’s “over the mountain” schools and the bill was amended to allow systems to pass a resolution saying they would not take such children.(

So what should we do?

We should adopt the approach of “community schools” that look at the whole child.  Not just their academics, but the totality of their lives.  Health issues, mental health concerns, dental care, mentoring, tutoring. etc.  We should have classes that teach mamas how to raise a child.

This isn’t easy.  It takes a lot of extra resources.  But there are systems all over the country doing this.  Cincinnati is an excellent example.  Several years ago Montgomery began a pilot community school program at two schools.  Then we brought in Mike Sentance from Massachusetts to be state school superintendent and when he intervened and took over the Montgomery system, he stopped these pilot programs.  But this was hardly a surprise since he was not an educator.

Neither or Collins, Meadows or Marsh.  Instead of dealing with the real issues some of our students face, they trot out their bills claiming they will work magic.  Which is about as realistic as believing that Vanderbilt will be national champions this fall.


A Sudden Fall From Grace

By now, most folks in Alabama know that Secretary of State John Merrill’s future in politics crashed and burned this week when he admitted that he had had a three-year extramarital affair.

None of us are such prudes as to think such things never happen.  But most are not nearly so public and the person vehemently denying having one is an elected official.

Merrill was once considered by many to be a rising star in state politics.  A graduate of the University of Alabama and SGA president while there, Merrill was elected to the state house of representatives from Tuscaloosa in 2010 and then Secretary of State in 2014.

Everyone knew he had ambitions for higher office.  In fact, not long after becoming Secretary of State to told some folks that his name was being floated as a potential gubernatorial candidate.  And he launched a bid for Jeff Sessions’ senate seat in 2019.. But this was soon aborted.

He also ran into hot water in 2015 when his name surfaced in a divorce deposition when the wife of a friend of his said she and Merrill had an affair. Merrill’s denials stretched credibility in light of the deposition.  A longtime attorney friend of mine has read the deposition and says it is very damning.

However, the straw that broke the camel’s back came to light this week.  On Tuesday, someone on social media mentioned his most recent liaison.  Merrill again went on the defensive, claiming the woman in question had been stalking him for a long time and they had not had a relationship..

Then the other shoe dropped on Wednesday when a taped telephone conversation between Merrill and the lady turned up.  It was  graphic and there was no denying Merrill was part of the conversation  At some point AL.com called Merrill and he immediately went into his denial routine.  Then they played him part of the tape.

At that point it was game over for the Secretary of State, who planned to run for Richard Shelby’s open senate seat in 2022.  He told AL.com that he would not run for the senate, or any other office, next year.  (The Secretary of State is term limited to only two terms.  Merrill is in his second term.)

Merrill is a tall, good-looking man and a tireless campaigner.  He is as good on the stump as anyone.

However, the fact that he has now been proven a hypocrite will follow him a very long time.  Merrill loved to sprinkle religious overtones in his speeches.  For instance, he told audiences that we no longer have any “morally uplifting” TV shows.  That we no longer have shows based on “biblical foundations.”  That people were too interested in things like “wife swap shows,”

The irony that he was ignoring the commandment about “thou shalt not commit adultery” is obvious.

And when you have someone who is proven to be a liar, cheat and hypocrite you certainly don’t see someone who should be trusted in any elected office.

(Though I must add, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that such qualities seem to be tolerated in Washington these days.)

Josh Moon Takes Del Marsh To The Woodshed

Editor’s note: John Moon of the Alabama Political Reporter, is one of the handful of investigative reporters left in Alabama.  As such he is used to taking politicians to task.  He recently took aim at Senator Del Marsh, a frequent opponent of public schools. for a bill he is proposing. Here are excerpts from his article:

“The bill, sponsored by Del Marsh, is the latest in a long line that takes from public schools and students that can least afford it.”

Somehow, State Senator Del Marsh managed to do worse. Yes, it was bad enough that Marsh brought to committee on Tuesday a bill that specifically allows public schools to deny entry to children with special needs — an abhorrent proposal and one specifically deemed illegal by federal law. And one the Republican-led committee passed in a 7-3 vote.

But despite the awfulness of such a proposal, that wasn’t the worst of Marsh’s time before the committee on Tuesday morning.

No, the worst of it was when Marsh, the biggest crutch for the Alabama Accountability Act, stood before the committee — while being questioned about his bill by Sen. Vivian Figures — and said that he was greatly troubled by Alabama’s current school funding structure and that he would love to see more money go to struggling schools.

“…. no one has done more to take funding from struggling schools over the past decade than Marsh.

Marsh was the primary sponsor of the 2013 Alabama Accountability Act, and he has been the sponsor of numerous “improvement” bills related to the Act. If you’re unfamiliar, the AAA was illegally passed and serves as a way to divert tax dollars that would ordinarily go to public schools and instead sends them to private, for-profit schools.

It does absolutely nothing to aid “failing schools” — most of which are located in economically depressed areas — but instead purposefully sucks money and students away from those schools and gives them to private schools.

He’s proposed legislation that has asked for more money for the AAA on at least two occasions. This despite the per-pupil allocation under the Act being higher for students attending private schools than it is for the students who remain enrolled in their zoned public schools.

Marsh also has asked for more money for the charters, proposing in 2019 that some local tax dollars also follow students to the charter schools.

Marsh is now back proposing yet another escape hatch. And of course, he’s also proposing a means to keep more vulnerable students — learning disabled kids this time — from clogging up the hatch. 

All of that is bad, of course. But it pales in comparison to the fact that it’s being proposed even while Marsh — and many, many others — knows where the real problem lies.” 

You can see the entire article here.

Charlotte Meadows Wants To Divert More Money From Public Schools

Montgomery freshman Republican house member Charlotte  Meadows wants to amend the current Alabama Accountability Act to allow donors giving to scholarship giving organizations (SGO) to get an even larger tax break than they currently can.  Each dollar given to a SGO is one less dollar going to the Education Trust Fund.

Presently donors get a 50 percent tax credit for half of their donation.  Meadows wants to increase this to 75 percent.

The Accountability Act has never lived up to its promises.

Figures from the Revenue Department  which administers the bill, show a total of $148 million have been donated in the past seven years.  Originally, total donations per year were capped at $25 million.  However, this was later changed to $30 million.  But records show that the cap has only been reached one time, an indication that the program has never been embraced by tax payers.

In fact, in 2019, the last year figures are available, donations were only $15.9 million, just slightly more than one half of the $30 million cap.  So Meadows has come up with her bill as a “workaround” in an effort to entice more contributions.

Of course, when this bill was rammed through the legislature under very strange circumstances in 2013, bill sponsor Senator Del Marsh wanted us to believe it was a magic potion which would “help poor students stuck in failing schools’.”  The only problem is that it has done anything but.  Numbers taken from SGO annual reports show that in the fall of 2020 there were only 2,925 students receiving AAA scholarships to private schools.  This was the lowest number since the program began..

And what about those students stuck in “failing schools?”  That never happened either.  Of the 2,925 last fall, only 33.4 percent met the qualification of “zoned” to attend a failing school.. And this number is bogus because a student can be zoned for a failing school, but have never set foot in one.

And how are these scholarship students doing?  Not very well says the The Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Alabama which has now reviewed AAA three times.  In their most recent report, for school year 2018-19, the institute says, “Six years after the passage of the AAA, there is no evidence that the scholarship program has resulted in academic achievement that is superior to Alabama public schools.”

Is it any wonder that 24 local school boards have passed resolutions calling for AAA to be abolished?

Shortly after the bill was passed in 2013, Senator Marsh was asked why he did not consult with any educators when creating the bill.  Remarkably, his response was, “Because they might have objected to it.”

But give Marsh credit for one thing–he still refuses to work with educators.  Just yesterday in a committee meeting about another education bill sponsored by Marsh, when Senator Vivian Figures asked him if had talked to educators he said he had no interest in doing so.

The first post I wrote on the blog six years ago was about the Alabama Accountability Act.  I have written more than 100 others since then.

It was a scam back then, and time has proven that it still is.

AAA doesn’t need another amendment.  It needs to be abolished.


Terri Collins’ Charter Bill Hits Snag

Representative Terri Collins of Decatur chairs the House Education Policy Committee and has been an outspoken advocate of legislation opposed by many educators.

Her latest was a bill to divert more money to charter schools.  HB487 made it out of committee but when it got to the full house on April 1 Collins did not have enough votes to get it passed and pulled the bill from consideration.

One Republican house member told me that he felt that there were at least 80 votes opposing the bill.  With 105 members in the house, that would mean 75 percent of them were not for this legislation.  And while Collins can try and bring the bill back later, she is facing an uphill battle to get majority support.

Collins sponsored the original charter bill in 2015 and told one reporter that the bill “needs tweaking.”

Probably the major change Collins wants is to give charters funding from local education taxes, which they presently don’t receive.  This was the primary focus of pro-charter folks at the public hearing for the bill.

The bill also changes the way the state charter commission is set up.  There are 10 members on this commission presently who  serve staggered terms.  The governor, lt. governor, speaker of the house and senate pro tem recommend two nominees for each commission open seat and the state school board picks one of the two recommendations for the commission.  Under the Collins bill, the state board of education would be removed from this process and elected officials would name them directly.  Which, of course, interjects even more politics into education decisions.

No doubt the two year battle in Washington County over Woodland Prep charter played a role in opposition to Collins’ bill.  After a long effort by locals to stop this school, which was backed by folks in Texas and Utah, the charter commission revoked its charter last June.

House members from rural areas believe Woodland Prep played a big role in what happened last Thursday.  The fiasco in Washington County received wide spread media coverage and word of mouth traveled from one legislator to another.

Betty Brackin agrees.  She was one of the key figures in the county opposed to Woodland Prep.

“I believe prior to Woodland Prep this charter bill would have slid in without much fanfare,” said Bracken.  “But  Woodland Prep’s attempted invasion and our fight became known to people all over the state.  We were able to show the many flaws with the current charter law that allows outside companies to make large sums of money at the expense of our small community schools.

“It was not easy.  We had to be relentless with our visits to the Legislature and State School Board meetings.  They soon realized we were not going away. After all, if we lost our public schools, the hearts of our communities would have been destroyed.”

Bracken added, “Someone told me recently that many representatives have lost their taste for charters.  I can’t help but believe our fight helped make that happen.”

What happens now?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But the last thing any representative wants is for their bill to be defeated.  And at this point, Collins faces an uphill battle it appears.


Matt Gaetz Can’t Keep His Mouth Shut

We have all heard it said that when you are in a hole, you should stop digging.

That is, except Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.who is being investigated by the Justice Department for sex trafficking, among other things.

Now he has written an op-ed for the Washington Examiner declaring his innocence and how he is a target of “the Washington swamp” that wants to silence his on-going battle against the political left.  He claims all allegations are just made up and that the Biden Justice Department is trying to get him.

Interestingly, he fails to mention that this investigation was begun by President Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr.  And to hear him claim that people are telling falsehoods about him is the pot calling the kettle black.  In spite of no evidence to support his claim, Donald Trump continues to claim that he only lost last November’s election because of massive vote fraud in many states.  Of course, no one has been a bigger proponent of this lie than Matt Gaetz.

Person after person believe Gaetz is in serious hot water, including former Republicans who served with him in the house.  It is now known that AG Barr told his staff to not schedule him to appear anywhere Gaetz was expected to be because he didn’t want his picture made with him.  And at least one incumbent congressman’s staff has said their boss refused to be any place Gaetz was..

So when Gaetz talks about the swamp, he is apparently talking about many Republicans.  At one time you could hardly turn on Fox News without seeing Gaetz.  Now he is seldom mentioned by them.

And Gaetz’ incessant efforts at continuing to be in the limelight are doing nothing but reminding friend (if he has any) and foe alike of the investigation.

Which reminds me of something else we’ve all heard, something about chickens going to roost.  If you listen carefully, you may hear some of them cackling.

For more on this mess, go here.

The Class Of 1961

NO.  That calendar is wrong.  Dead wrong.  Ain’t no way it’s now been six decades since the Theodore high school graduating class of 1961 picked up their diplomas and scattered to the wind.

I mean six decades is a long, long time.  Something like 60 years.  But then, I never was good at math and when you subtract 1961 from 2021 there is the possibly that the answer is 60.

But that doesn’t mean we have to believe it.

If true, then we started the 9th grade in 1957.  Dwight Eisenhower was president and John Patterson was governor of Alabama.  Few people had ever heard of George Wallace back then.  That was the year the space race began when Russia sent Sputnik in orbit of the earth in October..  The Number One song of that year was “All shook up” by someone named Elvis Presley.  Number Two was “Love letters in the sand” by the ageless Pat Boone.

The average price of a new home was $12,220 and a gallon of gas was 24 cents.  Toyota started selling cars in this country that year. For most of us, anything made in Japan was considered “cheap.”  And it was the first year American Bandstand came on our black and white TV sets.  (For those who had one.)

And here we came, a gaggle of 14 and 15 year old kids.  The age when some of the girls are still taller than the boys and we wondered what caused pimples.  We were mostly clueless about all the important things in life–like cars and girls.

For certain, we were a homogenized crew.  We were all white, most of our mothers were at home and our dads worked at Brookley Field, or International Paper or the shipyards..  If any of us had a parent who was a doctor or lawyer, I didn’t know about it.

At age 78, which most of are now, if you think of our lives as 4-year blocks, we’ve made it through 19.5 of them.  But while most of those segments simply come and go, there is no doubt the four years we spent at Theodore were the most formative ones of our lives.  We were trying to grow up.  We did finally learn a little bit about girls (do you ever really understand them completely?), we got our first driver’s license.  (I failed my first test because I ran a stop sign.  When the guy told me that, I asked, What is a stop sign?  You see back then, the dirt roads in Irvington, where our farm was, did not have stop signs.)

We were also supposed to learn about algebra and geometry and trigonometry.  But if I did, I couldn’t prove it when I got to Auburn.  But in a stroke of sheer genius, I took typing.  A skill I have used nearly every day of my life.  Why did I take typing when few boys did?  My guess was that the room was full of those girls I was trying to figure out.

But what we did most of all–and best–was form a bond.  One that remains until today.  One that we have celebrated every five years since 1971 with class reunions.  We made dear and fast friends who remain so.  Unfortunately, Father Time had not spared the class of 1961 and many of our classmates have now passed away.  The first being a member of the senior class in 1961. It was a jolt to come face-to-face with mortality at such a young age.

Since we walked the stage that night we have buried spouses and children, taken care of aged parents and agonized through divorce.  We have lost jobs and lost sleep over bills coming due.  We have been excited about grand kids, played with them and sent them back home while we tried to recover.

We have also learned that our bodies are as old as we are.  I once thought we just got older, I did not realize that along the way some of our parts stopped working so well, while some even quit.  We’ve lost our hair and the spring in our step.  We no longer have flat tops and hair wax.

But I still remember the night some of us were coming back from a track meet at Semmes when we came across a dead polecat and left it in a school hallway.  Bright and early the next morning, our janitor, Mr. Ott, had every door in the building wide open and was dousing chemicals up and down the halls.  The smell was awful.

Our 50th reunion in 2011 was our last “official” one.  We all got old and frankly, I think we just wore out the ladies who did such a wonderful job of organizing these over the years.

But we can still eat–and drive in the daylight.  Which is what we’re doing on June 14 when we gather at Felix’s Fish Camp on the Mobile causeway.  It will not be a big crowd.  But some are coming from faraway like Michigan and California.  We will hug and laugh and tell tales from long ago.

And even though such occasions are always bittersweet, for a couple of hours we will still be trying to figure what causes pimples and dancing to Elvis, Pat Boone, the Everly Brothers and Del Shannon..


Will Space Command End Up In Huntsville?

There was great rejoicing around the state when it was announced in January that the U.S. Space Command would be relocating from Colorado to Huntsville.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to learn that Alabama will be the new home to the United States Space Command,” Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey. said.

“Our state has long provided exceptional support for our military and their families as well as a rich and storied history when it comes to space exploration,” she said.

Of course there was pushback from Colorado at the decision.  And now Colorado is gaining support from some senators in other states.  Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla of California, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico recently signed a letter to the Pentagon objection to the decision.  All are democrats.

Naturally, politics is involved.  EVERYTHING in Washington is political.

Many contend that this move would not have happened if President Trump hadn’t have put his finger on the scales after he lost Colorado to Joe Biden, while handily winning Alabama

But the landscape has totally changed in Washington with the election of Biden as president and democrats having more congressional clout than before.

Alabama has two senators and seven congressional seats.  All but one of these, Terri Sewell of Selma, are Republicans.  And the eight Republicans consistently oppose anything the Biden administration proposes.

Not only that, but congressman Mo Brooks of Huntsville is running for the U.S. Senate in 2022 and goes out of his way to denounce the new administration as he tries to stir up Trump supporters around the state.

Given this situation, it’s safe to say that this decision on relocating this command, is not etched in stone–especially with Brooks constantly running his mouth.

I hope Alabama gets this significant investment in Huntsville.

However, I would also suggest that some of our congressional delegation remember that is not safe to bite the hand that feeds you, especially in the political world.


Some Good On Good Friday

About 8:30 Thursday night I went to the Family Dollar store around the corner to get some toilet paper.  (Something none of wish to run out of.)

Found what I needed and paid my bill.  Then stuck my hand in my overalls pocket for my car keys.

Oh no.  They weren’t in the pocket.  I was flabbergasted.  How could they not be?  I clearly recalled dropping them in there as I got out of the car.. I immediately retraced my steps through the store, looking up and down each aisle.  I patted myself down, thinking they might be in another pocket. (You see, overalls have plenty of pockets, which is one reason I like them).  But nothing.

All I have on my key chain is a car key and a house key.  I thought I had another car key in the car’s console.  Thankfully I had not locked the car when I got out.  Also thankfully I had not locked the house because the only spare I knew of was in a kitchen cabinet.

Found the car key in the console and headed home–disgusted with myself.

The next afternoon, which was Good Friday, I dropped back by Family Dollar praying that my keys had turned up.   The same clerk was at the register as she had been the night before.

By chance, has anyone turned in some keys? I inquired.  The young lady said she did not know of any, which was what I expected.  So I headed for my car..

As I settled behind the wheel, another employee came running out dangling some keys.  They were mine.  She said a customer found them in the parking lot and turned them in.

I wanted to kiss her, but decided that would not really be appropriate in broad daylight.  Still, I was elated and thanked her profusely.

And suddenly my Good Friday was just that.

Now history will never record what happened on April 2 in a Family Dollar parking lot in Montgomery  But I will never forget and will always be grateful..


President Biden announced his plans for an infrastructure bill this week.  The reaction from Republicans was immediate and expected.  They decried both the cost and the content, claiming most of the bill does not deal with infrastructure.

I find it interesting that the GOP has suddenly found religion when it comes to spending money, especially in light of the fact that the national debt went up 37 percent under President Trump and they never said a word.

And secondly, what is NOT really infrastructure?  If you spend money on education you are improving the education level of society.  If you spend money on health care, again you are making this country’ better.  Likewise with social programs and on and on.  Infrastructure is much, much more than roads and bridges  But if your only reason to be in Washington is to bitch and moan, why deal in reality?

And I wonder if those Alabama Republican congressmen who scream and holler about anything Biden proposes have ever driven from Montgomery to Birmingham on a Friday afternoon when what is normally a 90 minute drive may easily turn in three hours.

Where would this country be if President Franklin Roosevelt had not looked into the future and conceived the need for an interstate highway network and President Eisenhower had not decided to move ahead with this project.  This was not smooth sailing for Ike as some in congress complained about the cost and groups like the truckers fought any plan to raise fuel taxes to cover the cost.  But Ike and some forward-thinking leaders in Washington would not be denied and interstates now crisscross the nation.

But seems that “forward thinking” is a four letter word in Washington these days and the future does not extend beyond the next  election cycle.

More On Matt Gaetz Investigation

Editor’s note:  Our last post discussed the Justice Department investigation of Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida.   Gaetz is one of the more bombastic folks in Washington and seems to go out of his way to anger others.  No doubt this is why reporters are working overtime on this story.  For instance, The New York Times  is now reporting that Gaetz and a political friend, Joel Greenberg, were apparently involved with multiple women who were recruited online for sex in exchange for cash.  Greenberg has been indicted and is in jail awaiting trial in June.

The Times has reviewed financial records that show Gaetz made payments to a woman, who told her friends the money was for sex.

The following article from NBC does an outstanding job of outlining the entire satiation.  Here is the entire story::.

“Matt Gaetz has always been open that he didn’t go to Washington to make friends.

But after news broke that the FBI is investigating the Florida Republican for potential sex trafficking, Gaetz found few people willing to defend him or lend credence to his claim that he’s done nothing wrong but instead is being extorted and smeared.

Instead of circling the wagons and reflexively declaring “fake news” about the investigation, first reported by The New York Times and confirmed by NBC News, Republican leaders and opinion-makers are mostly staying quiet or letting Gaetz, a strong ally of former President Donald Trump, flap in the breeze.

During an interview Tuesday night in which the congressman denied any relationship with a 17-year-old woman, Fox News host Tucker Carlson wore an incredulous expression.

“That was one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted,” Carlson later said. “I don’t think that clarified much.”

Trump has so far not spoken up and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who was traveling in Iowa on Wednesday, told NBC News that he was “surprised” he hadn’t been able to reach Gaetz yet and that the allegations were “serious.”

“If a member at my conference gets indicted, they will get removed from a committee,” McCarthy said. “He says this is not true. And we have a newspaper report that says something else. We’ll find out.”

The most vocal defense has come from the likes of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a former wrestling coach who has faced his own allegations of ignoring sexual misconduct by a doctor who treated student-athletes, which Jordan has denied.

Despite his high profile among the conservative grassroots, Gaetz has few friends on Capitol Hill, according to multiple Republican aides and operatives.

His relentless self-promoting and near-daily appearance on Fox News stand out, even by the standards of Congress, where a generous ego and a hunger for the spotlight are practically job requirements.

He proudly criticized some of his own Republican colleagues, accusing them of weakness and selling out the conservative cause.

“When I first got to Washington, the party leaders said ‘Gaetz, it seems to us you’re not really a team player,’ and I said ‘I am, but you’re not my team,'” he told a crowd in his district this week, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

Gaetz’ relationship with his party’s leadership has been especially strained since he flew to Wyoming to lambast Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, in her home state over her vote to impeach Trump.

One former Trump campaign aide, who said Gaetz seems more interested in generating social media buzz than advancing conservative issues, said he frequently winced when the former president praised Gaetz.

Trump repeatedly lauded the “handsome” and “fantastic” Gaetz, who relished his role as Trump’s man on Capitol Hill and gatekeeper for people seeking favors. “I only regret that I have but one political career to give to my president,” Gaetz said last month.

Gaetz is the son of a wealthy Florida GOP powerbroker, former state Senate President Don Gaetz, who helped support and bankroll his son’s political career and is now corroborating his son’s claim that the elder Gaetz wore a wire at the behest of the FBI to foil the alleged extortion plot. The FBI has declined to comment.

“There was always that group of four or five male Republican members of Congress who would hang out late at the Capitol Hill Club and carouse and get into trouble. And I think everyone expected Matt would go in that trajectory,” said former Rep. David Jolly of Florida, who has since left the GOP and become a Trump critic.

The Capitol Hill Club, founded 70 years ago by a former Republican congressman, is the unofficial-official watering hole of Republican members of Congress, government officials and lobbyists.

“He kind of walked into that House seat. And that was just lighting a match to a personality that was looking for a fire,” Jolly added. “Anybody who knew Matt knew that eventually he would find controversy or controversy would find him.”

Gaetz has answered charges of impropriety before, including an accusation by a Florida legislator that he created a game in which young lawmakers scored points for sleeping with aides, interns, lobbyists and other legislators. He denied the accusation.

Gaetz has spoken publicly about several ex-girlfriends, including the sister of a young man whom he has come to see as his son.

The 38-year-old lawmaker got engaged in December to a 26-year-old food industry analyst at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club in Florida where the former president now lives. “He’s giving up the single life!” exclaimed Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who happened to be in attendance.

A skilled debater with an instinct for what enrages the left and delights the right, Gaetz has a knack for chasing viral news moments.

He wore a gas mask on the House floor in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. He barged into a secure room to disrupt the House Intelligence Committee’s work on Trump’s first impeachment. And he tried to get Britney Spears to testify before Congress on her conservatorship.

Controversy sells. Gaetz raised nearly $6 million in 2020, even though he faced only token opposition in re-election to his third term, and almost two-thirds of his haul came from small, grassroots contributions.

Gaetz was one of the few lawmakers in either party to defend former Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., after leaked nude photos showed her relationship with a campaign staffer.

Hill returned the favor when Gaetz faced questions about his adoptive “son,” saying on Twitter, “I can’t stand a lot of his beliefs but he’s been there for me when others haven’t.”

But the latest allegations were a bridge too far for Hill. “A 17 year old girl is a girl, not a woman. Statutory rape is rape, not anything else,” she tweeted.”