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Pinellas County Commission Candidates Agree On A Lot, But Not Climate Change

Jul 13, 2018

From sports stadiums to Donald Trump, the three Republican candidates vying for the only open seat this year on the Pinellas County Commission are finding plenty to agree on.

State representatives Larry Ahern and Kathleen Peters, and Tea Party activist Barb Haselden were the featured panelists at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club on Thursday. Right out of the gate, the candidates were asked about their support for Amendment 1, which would increase the state's property tax exemption. Ahern and Haselden said they would both vote "Yes" on the referendum in November.

Peters, who voted to put the issue on the ballot as a representative, said she is concerned about how it might affect the budgets of small municipalities and unincorporated areas of Pinellas County.

"I think it's a boost to the middle class for sure, but what concerns me is what going to happen to fire districts and special districts," Peters said.

The three candidates agreed that there were significant problems with the Greenlight Pinellas transit tax referendum, and also said taxpayers shouldn't foot the bill on sports stadiums in the future. Haselden led the "No Tax For Tracks" initiative that is credited with helping defeat Greenlight Pinellas in 2014.

When asked to name something President Donald Trump has done that has negatively affected Pinellas County, all three candidates declined.

"All I see is economic development," Ahern said. "So far, so good."

Ahern and Peters said they are concerned about the threat of rising sea levels in Pinellas County caused by climate change. But Haselden said she thinks there is still debate on the issue among scientists and she is unlikely to spend time working on the issue as a commissioner.

"I think basing today's public policy on something that might happen in 100 years is something I'm not likely to do," she said.

Haselden also said she would have voted "No" on the gun safety package recently passed by the Florida legislature, because she believes the law takes away the gun rights of young people. Ahern and Peters both voted in favor for the bill, which banned anyone under 21 from owning an assault rifle. 

The three candidates are running to represent voters in District 6, which includes Pinellas Park, Seminole and northeast St. Petersburg. The seat was most recently held by the late John Morroni.