Former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano has filed suit against the Republican Party of Florida, claiming the party defamed her in an attack mailer.
The complaint, filed Thursday in Citrus County Circuit Court, accuses the party of knowingly printing false information in the campaign mailer, which states that Argenziano "violated the law." The mailer doesn't specifically say how, but the intimation is that she broke the law when "she filed to run for Congress as a Democrat."
Argenziano denied she broke any law. She never actually filed as a Democrat, a fact she said could have easily been checked.
The mailer, she said, is a libelous attempt to hurt her current campaign for a state House seat.
"I left the Republican Party of Florida because of the corruption and the devious nature to try to win elections at all costs," she said. "To flat-out lie to try to win an election is just enough for me, and I'll be darned if I'm going to sit still and let them get away with it."
If the state Republican party can show where she broke the law, she said, "this lawsuit goes away."
Party officials had not seen the lawsuit Thursday, said spokesman Brian Burgess.
"But the mail piece correctly points out that she attempted to run for Congress in Tallahassee as a Democrat, for which she was not legally qualified," Burgess said. "She then filed a lawsuit because she didn't like the rules everyone is required to play by, and when she lost that lawsuit, she decided to run for office in Citrus County."
A spokesman for the state party did not immediately return a phone message and email from the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.
Argenziano is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $15,000, and punitive damages. The latter amount, she said in a statement, would be "a matter for the jury, after consideration of the $360 million the Republican Party of Florida has taken in in the last 16 years."
The longtime Republican switched her registration to Independent in June 2011 and then wanted to run for the 2nd Congressional District seat, representing Tallahassee and part of Florida's Panhandle, as a Democrat. She filed a lawsuit in December challenging a new state law that, among other things, forbade switching parties less than 365 days before the qualifying period for a general election.
A Tallahassee-based Circuit Court judge ruled against Argenziano, saying the Department of State did not violate her rights. Circuit Judge James Shelfer said previous cases consistently upheld the constitutionality of such "disaffiliation requirements," some with loyalty periods even greater than Florida's current one-year window.
He noted that Argenziano still had the right to run for Congress, either as a member of the Independent Party or with no party affiliation. Instead, Argenziano decided to run for the seat in state House District 34, which includes all of Citrus County and the northwest portion of Hernando.
The Democratic primary winner dropped out to make way for Argenziano, and the Florida Democratic Party voiced support for her instead of putting another candidate on the ballot.
Observers say Argenziano, a legislator who represented the area for nine years before making a statewide name for herself on the Public Service Commission, poses a formidable threat to Republican incumbent Jimmie T. Smith of Inverness.
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.