Peters is seeking a third term is a Republican and faces Democrat Jennifer Webb, an administrator at the University of South Florida. She plans to attend the annual Hands Across the Sands event tomorrow in which state and local leaders declare their abiding opposition to oil drilling off Florida's coasts.
But a press release Friday from an organization called the Superior Small Lodging Association, a non-profit representing individually-owned inns, bed & breakfasts, cottages and condos, is raising questions about Peters' opposition to oil drilling after she joined with all but seven of her GOP colleagues and voted for a bill last session that would have authorized the controversial drilling technique known as fracking and prevented local governments from regulating it.
The bill also included a temporary moratorium and would have authorized the activity only after it came before the Florida Legislature for another affirmative vote.
"Small business owners on the beach are questioning her record when it comes to fighting oil drilling and protecting local beaches given her support for fracking,'' writes the organization in its press release.
Mary Wilkerson, owner of Gulfside Resorts in Indian Rocks Beach, called out Peters: "Basically, Rep. Kathleen Peters voted for a law that pretty much takes away our local control over fracking from cities and counties all over Florida.''
June Mohns of Island Paradise Cottages of Madeira Beach speculated that Peters may have voted for HB 191 because she "has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from dirty fossil fuel industry investors.”
Peters says this is all wrong. "I have been against offshore oil drilling since before I was an elected official,'' she said Friday.
She said she supported the fracking bill (which failed to pass in the Senate) and "would support it today because without it we have no regulations and that bill put in place a moratorium and said you can't lift it unless the Legislature allows it. I don't believe the Legislature will ever allow fracking in Florida."
"This is all political,'' Peters said. "I expect we'll be hearing a lot about fracking in this campaign."
Would she support a bill that includes an outright ban on fracking in Florida -- similar to those proposed last session but which got no hearing?
"If a total ban would come up I'd probably support it,'' Peters said. But she prefers the approach taken by the bill's House author, Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, to require a study first to see what impact fracking might have on Florida's fragile water table.
Photo: Facing Old Tampa Bay, on the south side of the Gandy Bridge, about 30 people formed a human chain, holding hands for 15 minutes to demonstrate their objection to offshore drilling and to call for a renewable energy. Times file (2012)