Blocked from running as a Democrat, Nancy Argenziano says she will challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Tallahassee, as a member of the Independent Party.
A new state law prohibiting candidates from switching parties within a year of an election qualifying period snared Argenziano. The former Public Service Commission member, who had a falling out with Republican leaders, joined the Independent Party of Florida May 31. Unbeknown to Argenziano at the time, that registration would stymie her initial plan to run as a Democrat in the 2nd Congressional District.
Independent Party Chairman Ernest Bach says he's glad to have Argenziano. The party has placed few candidates on the ballot in recent years, and Argenziano is a relatively big name, having previously served in the state House and Senate. She was appointed to the PSC by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
Still angry about the change in the law, Argenziano says, "It's appalling to me. This is an incumbent-protection act."
Calling the party-switch restriction "one of the least-known provisions of a horrendous bill," Argenziano is already ramping up her attacks on Republicans.
"The ringmasters -- [Sen.] J.D. Alexander and [Senate President] Mike Haridopolos -- gutted the hell out of everything with this bill," she said. "Republicans are so quick to follow because they are enamored of their chairmanships or whatever."
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the election-reform law in question, House Bill 1355, said Argenziano's predicament "is her own fault."
"If she had read the rules, she could have done what Charlie Crist did and simply register 'No Party Affiliation,'" Baxley said, referring to Crist's "independent" U.S. Senate run in 2010.
Argenziano says she is seeking legal advice on a possible challenge to HB 1355. She believes it could be unconstitutional because it treats NPA registrants differently.
The ACLU and union organizations are said to be looking at challenging other provisions of the law, including those that tighten voter registration rules and make stricter regulations governing third parties.
Fred O'Neal, founder of the Florida TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party, expects many minor parties will be strangled by the new regulatory red tape.
"By Jan. 1, all parties will be required to come up with (the) same party structure as the Republican and Democratic parties -- the same kind of complexity and paperwork," O'Neal complained. "Who's going to have the wherewithal to do that?"
State officials say stricter regulation was required to clamp down on the exploding number of minor parties. Current rules allow individuals to easily register such parties, with few guidelines or requirements.
Taking advantage of these loose regulations, one South Florida man, Josue Larue, launched more than 40 separate political parties under his name. All are listed on the state's Division of Elections website.
O'Neal said the new regulations go too far in the opposite direction.
"The paperwork requirements are almost a nightmare. The more regulation, the more it benefits the large parties that have economies of scale," the Orlando attorney said.
Among other things, minor parties must fill county chairmanships and executive boards, paralleling the statewide structure of the two major parties.
"This is an indirect way to squeeze out upstart parties, O'Neal said, adding, "I don't know if there will be a TEA Party next year."
Baxley won't be shedding any tears if that happens. Deriding what he calls "fake tea parties," the Ocala Republican accused O'Neal's operation of "manipulating" the election process to "dilute tea party voters out of the conservative base and give an advantage to liberal candidates."
Some small-party officials speculate that the registration-change rule that snagged Argenziano will discourage third-party membership.
But Bach, with Argenziano as his party's standard bearer in 2012, hopes for a revival of the Independent Party, which he admits has been "docile" in recent years.
"I'm for weeding out the list of parties. We've decided to get more active. I'm working on the paperwork right now," Bach said, adding that he is seeking written explanation from the state to clarify some of the law's requirements.
Alex Snitker, who ran for U.S. Senate on the Florida Libertarian Party ticket, said HB 1355 will backfire on Republicans.
"They can't make enough laws to stop people from throwing their dumb asses out of office," Snitker said.
Noting the irony of self-professing free-market Republicans passing a law designed to entrench a political duopoly, Snitker said, "The GOP is about as free-market as Mussolini. They use my [libertarian] language to get elected, and then act like Hillary Clinton."
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.