[UPDATE] THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 16, 2012
A circuit court judge ruled against former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano's attempt to run for Congress as a Democrat, and the former Republican said later she is unlikely to continue the case.
The ruling likely means a three-party race for the Panhandle seat currently held by Republican Congressman Steve Southerland. Already four Democrats -- including state Rep. Leonard Bembry, former Sen. Al Lawson, attorney Alvin Peters and Jay Liles, policy consultant for the Florida Wildlife Federation -- have filed to take on Southerland, a freshman.
Argenziano sued over a state elections law overhaul last year that requires candidates who want to run as a member of one party to not have been a member of another party for at least one year before qualifying. Because of what Argenziano says was confusion when she went to drop her Republican affiliation, the former lawmaker is currently registered as a member of the Independent Party.
Circuit Court Judge James Shelfer said that Argenziano did not prove that she had a "fundamental right" to run as a Democrat -- something that would have required the state to prove that the elections law was constitutional -- and that she had not proven the law was unconstitutional.
He pointed to earlier rulings allowing the state to bar candidates from switching parties as much as two years before an election.
"Those cases show that that period of time is not something that is unreasonable," Shelfer said.
The normally sharp-tongued Argenziano was relatively subdued after the hearing. She said she would consider whether to appeal and was still likely to run as an Independent if she couldn't join the Democratic Party. She said she wasn't afraid that splintering the field could help Southerland.
"It doesn't give an advantage to the other people," Argenziano said. "I'm going to win."
She later said on the Facebook page for her congressional campaign that she would not continue to fight the law.
"The cost to appeal is too much, as well as the time involved," Argenziano wrote.
The case revolved around Argenziano's argument that the right to run for office, which courts have found, is fundamental and that the state should have to justify beyond a reasonable doubt its need to enforce the new law.
Shelfer seemed skeptical during attorney Janet Ferris' argument, pointing out that the law only affected Argenziano's affiliation.
"She can run," he said. "That's a fact."
Ferris said that wasn't enough.
"To me, it's kind of like saying, well, we have religious freedom, but if you want to come to Tallahassee, you have to be a Methodist," she responded.
Ferris also pointed out that the Florida Democratic Party said it didn't want whatever protection the law might provide against candidates switching to run under the party's banner.
But Daniel Nordby, a lawyer for the Florida Department of State, said that didn't matter. He said the party could not waive a law simply because it didnt like it, and argued that ruling in favor of Argenziano could create a logistical nightmare for elections officials.
"It would be utter chaos during the week of qualifying at the Secretary of State's office if candidates for political parties could simply decide on a whim which requirements from the qualifying statute did or did not apply to them based on their own desires," Nordby said.
[UPDATE] Tallahassee, Florida - The judge rules against a former state senator as she tries to run as a democrat for Congress. She's a democrat who used to be a republican who is now and independent.
Nancy Argenziano wants to run for Congress as a democrat, but due to a change in election law, which took effect last year, she may miss her deadline. Under Florida law a candidate who changes party affiliation must wait a year before being able to run for office in the new party. Before last year, that waiting period was only six months.
Argenziano sued against this, saying it's just not fair.
She says, "The legislation that passed that is now law basically has dictated to the people that want to run, like myself that there is only certain parties you can be part of and that's the way it is."
The race for the congressional seat in District Two could now be a three party race.
[UPDATE] Tallahassee, Florida - March 15, 2012 - 2:40pm
The defense for Nancy Argenziano wants the state to defend why the statute changed from a 6 month waiting period for party affiliation change to 17 months.
Eyewitness News has a reporter in court, stay with WCTV for updates.
[UPDATE] Tallahassee, Florida - March 15, 2012 -
HEARING IN ARGENZIANO LAWSUIT:
A Tallahassee judge holds a hearing in a lawsuit filed by a former state lawmaker who was a Republican but wants to run for Congress as a Democrat, and can't because of the state's new elections law. Nancy Argenziano, who also is a former Public Service Commissioner, had planned to run against U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland in Congressional District 2, but a change made last year by the Legislature requires candidates to belong to a party for 17 months before an election before they can run as a member of that party. Argenziano is still running, as a member of the Independent Party, but is challenging the provision in law. Few knew the change was in an elections bill that got much more attention for other provisions that Democrats argued would make it harder for their constituents to vote. Judge James Shelfer is hearing the lawsuit, and has a hearing in the case scheduled Thursday. (2 p.m., Leon County Courthouse, Tallahassee.)
The defense for Argenziano is pleading its case before the judge now.
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Aug. 4, 2011 -
Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
A massive elections law passed by the Legislature this spring appears to bar former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano from running for office as a Democrat, imperiling her plans to challenge freshman Republican Congressman Steve Southerland.
Argenziano, a former Republican legislator, said Monday that she intended to run as a Democrat for the seat currently held by Southerland, a tea party-backed candidate who rode last year's Republican wave to victory over incumbent Rep. Allen Boyd.
Argenziano, who represented many of the counties in Southerland's district during her time in the Legislature, would have given Democrats a credible candidate for the seat in a year that could be less favorable to the GOP.
But a new state law appears to require Argenziano to have registered as a Democrat -- or at least not be a registered member of another party -- at least a year before the opening of qualifying for the seat, now scheduled for June 4.
The St. Petersburg Times reported late Wednesday that Argenziano is registered as a member of the Independent Party.
The Times quoted Ron Labasky, an attorney for the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, as saying the law would bar Argenziano from changing parties and running for Congress.
"If that's the way they've got her registered, as being a member of a recognized party, I think it would be an issue of changing from the Independent Party to the Democratic Party," Labasky said. "The provision says you can't do that without a 365-day window."
Argenziano, known for a maverick and outspoken streak during her time as a legislator and member of the Public Service Commission, told the News Service of Florida in an interview Monday that she would also be likely to buck the Democratic Party if she were elected to Congress. But she said she was disgusted with the GOP's efforts to roll back environmental legislation and dramatically overhaul Medicare and Social Security.
"If I believed that America was really ready to put independents in office, I would run as an independent," she said Monday.
Argenziano did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday evening.
The fate of the elections law -- which passed the Legislature after heated, partisan debate -- is far from certain. The U.S. Department of Justice has not precleared the law, prompting Secretary of State Kurt Browning to sue the department in federal court to try to force approval of the four most contentious elements. Those include changes to the rules for third-party registration groups; new standards for address changes at polling places; a reduction in the number of early-voting days; and new restrictions on citizen-initiative petitions.
But the law also includes a severability clause, meaning a court ruling that doesn't specifically strike down the party-change restrictions is unlikely to nullify that provision.
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Aug. 2, 2011 -
Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
Former Republican state Sen. Nancy Argenziano said Monday she is prepared to run as a Democrat for the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla.
Argenziano, who said she will officially announce her candidacy in the next couple of weeks, has grown increasingly vocal about what she views as the "hijacking" of her former party.
She retired from the Public Service Commission last year, a few months before her term was set to expire, to campaign against Rick Scott's successful gubernatorial bid. And Argenziano was part of a series of "Awake the State" rallies held earlier this year to slam the agenda pursued by Scott and the GOP-dominated Legislature.
"I decided to run as a Democrat because the Republican Party left me and they left their principles," Argenziano said in an interview Monday afternoon.
Word of Argenziano's plans leaked out as a draft of a letter she wrote to friends who had asked her to run began circulating on the Internet.
"We have seen our representatives vote to end common sense protections that ensure clean air and clean water, pass the Ryan plan which proposed to gut Social Security and end Medicare, put the full faith and credit of America in doubt for the first time in history, and vote against protecting America's wildlife from extinction, among other steps backward into the 16th century," Argenziano wrote in the final draft of her letter. " ... The barbarians are no longer at the gate; they are in the halls of Congress."
The independent-minded Argenziano says Democrats should be under no illusion about what they're getting. She said she wouldn't be in lockstep with that party either, insisting she will still speak her mind.
"It's time, and I plan to jump in," she said in the interview. "And if I believed that America was really ready to put independents in office, I would run as an independent."
Argenziano could present a credible challenge to the freshman Southerland, who defeated incumbent Democrat Allen Boyd last year amid a Republican tsunami. Her old Senate district includes parts or all of six of the counties crossed by the sprawling 2nd congressional district, though that could change when the Legislature redraws the maps next year as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process.
According to her letter, Argenziano plans to file for the seat by Aug. 10 and then raise $200,000 to try to draw the interest of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party's arm devoted to winning U.S. House races.
Brian Hughes, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, shrugged off Argenziano's critique.
"The Republican Party she's describing doesn't exist," he said, saying the GOP is instead "a party that's inclusive, has tremendous grass-roots support and is all about getting Florida and the nation back to work."
Argenziano has long been known as something of a maverick, even when she was a Republican in the Senate, and before that in the House. A single mom, and a full-time legislator who wore leather and rode a motorcycle, the Brooklyn-born Argenziano was once stripped of a committee chairmanship in the House after sending a box of cow manure to a lobbyist who opposed her on an issue.
Argenziano was also an outspoken member of the PSC, to which she had been appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, and alleged she was denied a second term on the panel because she declined to go along with regulated utilities often enough. The Public Service Commission Nominating Council last year declined to send her name to Crist for reappointment.