Nancy Argenziano loses lawsuit; won’t run as a Democrat

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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, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

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 didn’t 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.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.