More than a few Pinellas County Republicans spent decades dreaming of running for Congress and succeeding Rep. C.W. Bill Young. Yet after Young died in October and the seat became open for the first time since 1970, the best-known and best-qualified potential candidates declined to run. That leaves Republican voters in the Jan. 14 special primary with no obvious successor to the longest-serving Republican in Congress. The edge goes to Kathleen Peters, a first-term state legislator with a history of service to her community. • Peters, 52, is a former South Pasadena mayor who was just elected to the Florida House in 2012. She entered the race only after better-known Republicans declined, and she has the local experience and temperament to succeed even though she has a lot to learn about federal issues.
Peters moved to Pinellas County in 1985, and she and her husband own and operate a convenience market. After raising four sons, she returned to college and launched a separate career. She worked at the Juvenile Welfare Board and the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, focusing on juvenile justice and delinquency issues, and for the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce. As a new House member, she followed the Republican majority this spring and was not a leader on the top issues. She did pass legislation that solved a problem where condominium owners were treated differently from homeowners when it came to assessments for use of state-owned submerged lands.
Peters offers the most realistic conservative assessment of the Affordable Care Act. She says she would not vote to repeal the law until its popular provisions, such as the right to obtain coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions, are included in a Republican alternative. She is open to means testing in Social Security and Medicare to reduce costs. She favors reforms that would both reduce the federal deficit and invest in infrastructure, education and transportation. She supports the Senate's broad immigration reform bill and lifting the unsuccessful embargo on Cuba. On social issues, she says abortion rights and gay marriage are best left up to the states.
David Jolly, 41, is a lawyer who spent nearly two decades working for Young and who also spent time as a lobbyist. He speaks in more detail about federal issues than Peters. Yet his solution to the nation's fiscal problems — protect entitlements for those now working, don't raise taxes and don't make new investments until the deficit is eliminated — aren't realistic. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act but offers no sensible alternative. Jolly offers no pragmatic solutions and promotes more rigid ideological positions. He is out of step with the district.
Mark Bircher, 60, a commercial airline pilot and retired Marines Reserve brigadier general, passionately argues that the federal government has grown far beyond what the nation's founders intended. But the political newcomer lacks a practical approach to serving in Congress.
In the Republican special primary election for U.S. House District 13, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Kathleen Peters.