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STATE HOUSE, DISTRICT 43 // Candidates put on their hard hats

Nancy Argenziano wears many hats. She is a single mother, a crime victim and an outspoken advocate for protecting water resources.

R.D. "Skip" Steighner's hat rack is equally packed. He is a retired businessman, a father and husband and a Republican Party stalwart.

Both want to represent District 43 in the state House. On Tuesday, Republican voters in that district, which includes Citrus, part of Hernando and a sliver of Marion County, will choose between them.

The winner will put his or her collective experience up against incumbent Helen Spivey, a first-term Democrat, in the November general election.

Argenziano seems confident of a victory. She tips her hat to neither of her opponents, and least of all to Steighner, whose political existence she barely acknowledges.

Steighner is more low-key but appears to want the job just as badly.

Although he hesitates to cite specifics, Steighner said he decided to run because he did not think the district was receiving "fair representation" in Tallahassee. If he wins Tuesday, Steighner, 64, probably would level more criticism against the incumbent.

For the time being, he is satisfied to tout his platform, which lists education, environmental and water protection, crime reduction and economic growth as top priorities.

Steighner, the father of seven grown children, said the state must provide more continuing education to parents who need help making their children's lives better. In the classroom, Steighner wants to downsize the state's education department and ship more resources to the local level.

Steighner said he would fight to protect the region's water resources. He suggests some creative approaches, such as improving the state's ability to recycle plastics, car batteries and other goods that, if not disposed of properly, would pollute the water system and thus make water less available.

"Unfortunately, it (water) is not the most important issue we face," he told the Times editorial board recently.

He also throws in some standard promises, such as an end to "country club" frills for prison inmates and excessive taxes and regulation.

If elected, Steighner said he would take a reasonable approach to legislating, saying he would be "in a position to lead and to suggest, not to demand."

Steighner is a retired plastics engineer and businessman who has owned a plastic company and several other businesses. Since coming to Citrus County, he has become active in Republican Party politics, leading the Republican Executive Committee for the past three years.

For Steighner, the biggest motivating factor in the campaign might have come Aug. 23, when the Times recommended that Republican voters choose Argenziano in the primary.

The morning after that editorial appeared, Steighner cited the piece _ which called him timid and lacking depth _ when presenting a fiery address to the Inverness Republican Club.

Steighner noted that, as chairman of the Republican committee, he has helped many GOP candidates go on to victory.

"You don't get those kinds of results by being timid," Steighner told his fellow Republicans. "I challenge the people in this room to find me timid."

As for depth, Steighner noted that he had worked with author James Michener on updating the Pennsylvania state Constitution, and that he employed his computer skills in updating that state's legislative technology systems.

None of this seems to impress, or worry, Argenziano. From her point of view, the only candidate worth worrying about is Spivey.

Indeed, state campaign records showed that Argenziano, 41, has raised about $22,000 yet spent only $13,000 _ obviously packing some away for her fight in the general election.

"I feel I am the viable candidate," Argenziano said.

She touts her background as a water activist. Argenziano is executive director of the Withlacoochee Basin Initiative and has been a leader in the fight to protect the region's water supply, often organizing meetings, studying issues and leading protest trips to Tallahassee.

She supports adherence to a strict "local sources first" policy.

"I find her to be an extremely effective kind of person who, I think, goes the extra length to put her finger on the pulse of how people feel about an issue," said Jack Sullivan, executive director of the Withlacoochee Regional Water Supply Authority.

"I'll take a second seat to no one" on the environment, Argenziano said. That includes Spivey, a well-known environmentalist.

Still, Argenziano does not consider herself a one-issue candidate. In fact, she counts crime, not water resources, as her top issue.

Argenziano, the victim of a home invasion while she lived in Palm Beach, said she wants more juvenile criminals tried as adults and will support the movement requiring prison inmates to serve more time behind bars.

She also wants to cut down on fraud and abuse in health care.

"My freshman year, I'm going to have a good deal of influence," Argenziano told a crowd at the Citrus Springs Community Center this month.

"Nice is not relevant in Tallahassee," she told the Times.

If there's one common element in this race, it's that both candidates have stumbled a bit in the accounting department.

Early in the campaign, Argenziano slipped by donating campaign money to congressional candidate Dave Gentry. Such transfers are improper, and Argenziano quickly repaid her account.

Steighner, because of what he called a clerical error, filed reports showing he had spent more than he had taken in. County records also show a federal tax lien against his name. He said the Internal Revenue Service is mistaken, and he is fighting the lien.

NANCY ARGENZIANO, 41, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She has lived in Florida since 1971 and in northwest Citrus since 1987. She has worked in real estate, stained-glass artistry, animal husbandry and as the manager of an animal hospital. As a single mother, Argenziano has raised one son, now 23. She belongs to the Nature Conservancy, Florida Wildlife Federation and Christian Children's Fund and is executive director of the Withlacoochee Basin Initiative. ASSETS: home, property, mutual funds. LIABILITIES: doctor bill, credit card. SOURCE OF INCOME: none listed.

R. D. "SKIP" STEIGHNER, 63, was born in Grove City, Pa. He has lived in Florida since 1979 and in Sugarmill Woods since 1988. A member of the American Society of Plastic Engineers, Steighner has served as manager of the Monsanto Chemical Corp.'s computer operation and owned computer and plastic companies. He is semiretired and is a consultant. Steighner was a staff sergeant with the Air Force during the Korean War. He has been chairman of Citrus County's Republican Executive Committee for three years. He is married and has five sons, two daughters and five grandchildren. ASSETS: home in Sugarmill Woods. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCES OF INCOME: Social Security, Comtel Directories of Florida.