Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Politics

Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

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TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political ladder.

Peters, a three-term Treasure Island Republican, had little use for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, in the 2017 session, as they battled over state money for tourism and his attacks on local government home rule. She's also an ally of Corcoran's enemy, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Fed up with Corcoran, Peters won't be back, and will instead run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission in 2018.

Frustrated with Peters, Corcoran reminded her who's in charge. He removed her as chairwoman of the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee, relocated her to a fourth-floor office next to a Democrat, then isolated her to the end of a row next to two vacant seats to be filled by "redshirt" freshmen, beyond the Florida Channel's TV camera angles.

"He could have put me on the 14th floor, I suppose," Peters said.

Peters was outraged in June when Corcoran told a Tampa crowd that special interests have more influence at City Hall than in the state Capitol. She told the Times/Herald that Corcoran's remarks were "silly" and "naive," and that Tallahassee is notorious for lobbyist influence and for shutting off public debate to people who drive six hours to testify.

Oddly, Peters raved about Corcoran just last month. Seeing an op-ed by former Senate President Don Gaetz about how well Florida is doing, Peters texted Corcoran on July 9: "You have done a great job in preserving and protecting Florida." Her explanation: "Sometimes he's right and sometimes we disagree." She's grateful that Corcoran left her on two House committees where she can continue to work on her priorities of mental health and addiction recovery.

Corcoran argues that other House Republicans who disagree with him weren't punished and that Peters' moves were needed to give better assignments to House members such as Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa: "You just move people around." Was Peters punished? "Nope."

All politics is local, and Peters' rival for the County Commission, term-limited Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, is a staunch Corcoran ally. That means their Republican primary will literally be a referendum on Corcoran's record, and especially his criticism of county governments as bloated, wasteful and inefficient. As Ahern defends Corcoran, Peters will campaign against what she calls an arrogant and out-of-touch capital. Just wait and see.

With one session to go, Peters has nothing to lose. She accused Corcoran of rank hypocrisy, noting that his 2012 manifesto, Blueprint Florida, was full of criticism of the status quo that Corcoran vowed to change, such as: "The process is often autocratic, not democratic, and based on purely personal considerations."

Contact Steve Bousquet at sbousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.

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