Thursday, April 26, 2018
Politics

If Peters gets elected to Congress in Pinellas, state House seat could stay empty

If Pinellas County voters elect Kathleen Peters to Congress next March, the victory could come with a price — her seat in the state House of Representatives may stay empty.

Peters is a state representative from South Pasadena who is now running for the congressional seat that became vacant after the death of longtime Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

If Peters were to get elected to Congress and resign her state position, a special election could be called to find a replacement to represent people in state House District 69, which includes west St. Petersburg, Gulfport, South Pasadena and beach communities south of the Redingtons.

But it's not likely the replacement could be elected in time for the legislative session, which runs from March 4 to May 2. The general election will be March 11, after the session already has begun.

Although Peters said she would take measures to make sure her constituents in District 69 were well taken care of, she acknowledged it's possible they might not have their own representative for a period of time if she leaves the state House for Congress.

"I have first and foremost an obligation to my constituents to fulfill my obligations and responsibilities as a state legislator," she said in an interview.

So how would she do that if she leaves her state House seat vacant?

She said she will look for co-sponsors of the bills she is championing so they can carry on the work if she leaves. She also said the Pinellas County legislative delegation works well together and that other lawmakers would step in for any District 69 constituents who need help.

"I don't believe that any Republican or Democrat in this Pinellas County delegation would ever allow one resident or citizen in Pinellas County not to be represented," she said.

But even in this scenario, no one from District 69 would have the power to vote in the Florida House.

At this point, it's not clear if Peters will still be campaigning on March 11. She is running against former Young aide David Jolly and retired Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Mark Bircher in the Jan. 14 Republican primary for the seat. The winner will go on to face Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby in the March 11 general election.

Peters acknowledged she's staying extremely busy by continuing her work as a state legislator at the same time she's running for Congress.

She noted that she resigned from her full-time job at the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce "to ensure that I would be able to continue the same level of attention and energy on my legislative work as I have previously."

And even as she continues campaigning, she also intends to go to Tallahassee in the weeks beginning Jan. 6 and Jan. 13 because legislative committees are scheduled to meet during that time. She said she will decide later whether her schedule will even allow her to return to Pinellas County on Jan. 14 — primary election day.

Peters said she plans to meet with the House speaker the next day, on Jan. 15, if she wins the primary.

"What I will do is have a conversation with the speaker and that conversation will be about what's best for Floridians and best for my district," she said.

Asked if she could resign from the House at that point, she said "that could be part of the conversation."

But even that probably would not leave enough time for a special election before the legislative session begins.

Staff writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232. Twitter: @ckruegertimes.

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