With four Democrats and three Republicans, the Pinellas County Commission has been working in a bipartisan fashion to tackle the county’s most pressing challenges. There is only one candidate in the Republican primary for District 6 who would embrace that successful consensus-building formula. Rep. Kathleen Peters of Treasure Island built a strong record in the Legislature by focusing on mental health reforms, and she has been willing to speak up for county issues and challenge the Republican leadership.
Peters, 57, is by far the best choice for the seat long held by the late John Morroni, who died in May. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Jay Beyrouti to fill the vacancy until after the November election. District 6 covers the south Pinellas beaches, Seminole, Pinellas Park and northeast St. Petersburg. The Republican primary winner will be the favorite to win the general election in November.
A former mayor of South Pasadena, Peters was first elected to the Florida House in 2012 and could have served another two years before being term limited. But she dislikes the partisan politics of Tallahassee, and her independence left her at odds with the House Republican leadership. She opposed House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s efforts to dismantle Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, and she courageously challenged how Corcoran and other lawyers in the Legislature work for firms that lobby.
In the House, Peters became an authority on mental health issues by visiting prisons, mental hospitals and judges. She also helped pass utility regulation reform that enabled Duke Energy customers to save hundreds of millions related to the utility’s failed nuclear efforts.
Peters has not shied away from local issues. She helped pass legislation to reform the Pinellas Construction Licensing Board after its conflicts were exposed by a Tampa Bay Times investigation. Peters also criticized the city of St. Petersburg’s failure to properly notify residents of spills of partially treated sewage, and she helped pass legislation that now requires the public to be notified within 24 hours of a discharge.
On the county commission, Peters would continue to focus on mental health issues. She wants to explore the creation of a central receiving facility for people suffering from substance abuse or mental health issues and who may be involuntarily committed because they pose a threat to themselves or others. She wants to focus on upgrading infrastructure, supports bus rapid transit and seeks to add incentives for developers to build more affordable housing.
Rep. Larry Ahern, 63, of Seminole has served eight years in the House without distinction. He has been the most conservative and least effective Pinellas legislator, providing a reliable vote for whatever the Republican leadership wanted. His anti-tax, anti-government approach would not be a good fit on the commission.
Barbara Haselden, 66, of St. Petersburg founded an insurance company that specializes in long-term care and has been a conservative activist. She founded a tea party-related group in 2009 and led a campaign to defeat the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum in 2014. She wants term limits for county commissioners and even criticizes the phrase in the county’s mission statement, "commitment to progressive public policy.’’ That sums up why she should not be on the commission.
In the Republican primary for Pinellas County Commission District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Kathleen Peters.