TALLAHASSEE — Former Republican state Sen. Nancy Argenziano announced this week she plans to run for Congress as a Democrat in 2012.
But under the state's new elections law, she can't.
A provision prohibits candidates from running as a member of a political party if they were registered for any other party 365 days before the qualifying period for a general election.
Qualifying for 2012 congressional elections starts June 4, 2012. Argenziano changed her voter registration May 31, meeting the one-year window.
But she registered as a member of the Independent Party.
That precludes her from running as a Democrat, said Ron Labasky, a Supervisors of Elections Association attorney.
"If that's the way they've got her registered, as being a member of a recognized party, I think it would be an issue of changing from the Independent Party to the Democratic Party," he said. "The provision says you can't do that without a 365-day window."
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the bill in the House, said the provision was targeted at former Gov. Charlie Crist, who dropped out of the Republican Party to run with no party affiliation for the U.S. Senate in 2010, and candidates who ran in 2010 under the tea party banner without backing from the grass roots movement.
"These party labels are there so the public knows what ideals you identify with," Baxley said. "The intent of the bill is to avoid people using one brand and then building up a lot of support based on that brand and then switching it to some other purpose."
Argenziano, who has a home in Crystal River but lives in Tallahassee, wants to run for the North Florida District 2 seat now held by freshman Republican Steve Southerland, who unseated longtime Democrat Allen Boyd in November 2010.
She said she registered as a member of the Independent Party "because that's what I felt I was at the moment."
"I had had enough with the Republican Party and what they had morphed into," she said.
She specifically changed her registration at the end of May to beat the June 4, 2011, deadline, as required by the new law, which is being challenged in court.
But she said she believes she would have more success running as a Democrat.
"I don't think they're ready to put in an independent yet," she said of Florida voters.
And she believes the new law that would prohibit her from running as a Democrat is unconstitutional.
"I have spent my entire career fighting for Florida, always putting the interests of the people above partisan politics," Argenziano said Wednesday. "Unfortunately … the Republican Party can't say the same."
The Florida Democratic Party is happy to welcome Argenziano.
"She is a proven winner, a strong advocate for consumers and the environment," said party executive director Scott Arceneaux.
"In the end, we don't believe the bill will prevent Nancy from running. Of course, the Republicans don't want Nancy to run, because they know she can win."
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.