Party Disaffiliation Challenge: What's the Meaning of 365 Days?

By: Kenric Ward | Posted: April 18, 2012 3:55 AM
Dennis Baxle

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala | Credit: Mark Foley - myfloridahouse.gov

A Florida law that bars candidates from switching parties in the year before an election could face a court challenge on the grounds that it amounts to a lifelong ban.

Fred O'Neal, founder of the Florida TEA Party, cited Section 99.021(1)(b) of the law, which says a candidate must attest that he "has not been a registered member of any other political party for 365 days before the beginning of qualifying preceding the general election for which the person seeks to qualify."

"As a result, the only potential candidates the Tea Party or any other new party can hope to qualify are 18- and 19-year-olds or people who have been lifelong NPA's [No Party Affiliation]," said O'Neal.

The Orlando attorney argues that the law's failure to specify "during the 365 days" prior to the election can be construed to mean any 365-day period -- thus thwarting party-jumping candidates altogether.

O'Neal said he believes the law's sponsor, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, intended to use the phrase "during the 365 days" before the beginning of qualification.
"But he didn't," O'Neal said. "And under Florida law, legislative intent and the meaning of a statute is determined solely by the 'plain language' of the statute, unless there is some ambiguity."

Baxley said the law is intended to "keep candidates from manipulating the process -- from building political capital in one place and then switching in a new direction."

"The intent was, 'You don't switch parties 365 days before an election,'" he said.

Baxley said he has not talked to attorneys to determine if a change in the law's wording "has merit."

Nancy Argenziano challenged the disaffiliation law in an effort to switch from the Independent Party to the Democratic Party as she sought to run for Florida's 2nd Congressional District seat.

But her lawsuit was tossed by the courts, and she has since decided to run for a state House seat in Citrus County, as an Independent Party candidate.

Argenziano, a former Public Service Commission member who previously served as a Republican state legislator, agrees with O'Neal that the law needs another look.

"If you read the language, it shows how messed up this really is," she said.

Pending another legal challenge, O'Neal believes the law "has effectively cemented people into their existing political parties forever."

"As a practical matter, we can effectively never run a candidate for office," he said of the Tea Party.

"Moreover, people like me -- who have at some point in their lives been both a registered Republican and a registered Democrat for more than 365 days each -- can never run for office in Florida as a candidate of any political party," O'Neal argues.

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

Comments (4)

10:40AM APR 18TH 2012
The Establishment of both parties have colluded to make it almost impossible for a third party to emerge as a viable alternative - from the federal level right down to the local level. From requiring third party candidates to pay outlandish fees to be on the ballot to subsidizing the two-party candidates with taxpayers-funded matching contributions.

It has gotten so bad that the 310 million US citizens are now subsidizing the Republican and Democratic national presidential conventions - and ONLY their conventions. Whoever said that Democrats and Republicans can never agree? They certainly agree when the taxpayers have to foot their campaign expenses.
Robert Lloyd
8:39AM APR 18TH 2012
>>Lawyers should be banned from holding any legislative office<<

'RepublicanConscience' at his best. People should read and understand what he has stated. I too have long believed that attorneys should not be allowed to hold public office... John Adams be damned. Remember he defended the British in the Boston Massacre.

George Washington was not an attorney and he was our best. Ron Paul is not an attorney and he is our present best.
7:34AM APR 18TH 2012
To determine what is the meaning of 365 days, you must first determine the meaning of "is."

The problem with legislation is that it is done by lawyers. Lawyers should be banned from holding any legislative office simply because it is a conflict of interest. First they write it then take the responsibility to interpret it, but most of government is a conflict of interest isn't it?
10:58AM APR 18TH 2012
You are correct. For the "Nation of Laws", we have the world's highest ratio of lawyers per capita - 1 lawyer per 200 citizens. The used car dealers have more integrity and provide a more useful service to the population than lawyers.

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