[Tallahassee, FL] A former Republican lawmaker seeking to run for Congress as a Democrat filed suit against the state Friday, saying a new elections law unconstitutionally bars her from joining her new desired party.
Nancy Argenziano, who currently plans to run for the congressional seat as a member of the Independent Party, filed suit in Leon County circuit court, saying the law violates the state and federal constitutions by treating partisan candidates differently than nonaffiliated candidates and trampling on the right of free association.
The controversial elections law passed the Legislature earlier this year has already come under fire from voting-rights groups who claim it aims to cut back on legitimate voting. A three-judge panel in the District of Columbia is reviewing other parts of the bill that could affect minorities under the Voting Rights Act.
In a press conference to announce the lawsuit, Argenziano argued that leaders of her former party like Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-26/Merritt Island), House Speaker Dean Cannon (R-35/Winter Park), and the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-24/Ocala), are trying to protect GOP power with the bill.
“I object that the Legislature and more specifically, Haridopolos, Cannon and Baxley, abetted by the schemes and pocketbooks of the Koch brothers, have manipulated to limit with whom I can politically associate, for what purposes and during what time frames, without founding such restrictions on a legitimate, identifiable and overriding state interest — without, in fact, even implying such an interest,” Argenziano said.
The former lawmaker bolted the party in 2010, after its nomination of Gov. Rick Scott and endorsed then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink in the governor’s race. Argenziano has since become a consistent critic of the Republican Party, announcing earlier this year that she would challenge U.S. Congressman Steve Southerland (R-2/Tallahassee).
But Argenziano was later told she couldn’t run as a Democratbecause Baxley’s legislation changed the time frame for changing parties from six months before the election to a year before the qualifying period for that legislation. Argenziano had filed as an Independent on June 3 “as a placeholder” while she figured out what to do with her partisan affiliation after becoming disillusioned with the GOP, she said.
Argenziano said she intends to run in the 2nd Congressional District regardless of her party affiliation. But she said the two major parties have better infrastructure.
Nancy Argenziano 2004-2006
And she said that some time limit on when candidates can change party is fair – but the current time frame is too short.
If the lawsuit is successful, Argenziano said, she would join the Democratic Party. Otherwise, she said she would run as and likely remain an Independent but caucus with Democrats in Congress.
The sharp-tongued Argenziano also suggested the provision was part of model legislation by a conservative group that advises Republican lawmakers across the country, not a voting-fraud epidemic in Florida.
“It is not merely a remarkable coincidence that 38 states, via the American Legislative Exchange Council, simultaneously discovered the same threat to the republic,” Argenziano said.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Kurt Browning, the defendant, said his office was still reviewing the suit.
But Baxley defended the law, saying early fundraising and endorsements rely on a candidate’s assurances about their party affiliation.
“I think the whole purpose is just to be more transparent with the people who are participating in the process,” Baxley said.
Some Republicans felt stung by former Gov. Charlie Crist’s bolt from the party in April of 2010 after he fell behind Marco Rubio in polls on the U.S. Senate race of later that year. It left some Crist supporters wondering whether to continue to support him, or switch to Rubio, who then became the Republican candidate.
Baxley also questioned Nancy Argenziano‘s contention that the new time frame is less constitutional than the old one, saying that the choice is a judgment call.
“Six months or a year shouldn’t make a difference,” he said.
By: Brandon Larrabee/The News Service of Florida
Lead image: Nancy Argenziano From State Senate campaign ad still