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A visit, a gift, a great big mess

Say it with flowers? Nope. This lawmaker's sentiment for a lobbyist is a box - filled with 25 pounds of cow manure.

By LUCY MORGAN and ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2001


Say it with flowers? Nope. This lawmaker's sentiment for a lobbyist is a box -- filled with 25 pounds of cow manure.

TALLAHASSEE -- The package was gaily wrapped with red ribbons, sent by Rep. Nancy Argenziano to a lobbyist who had angered her.

Inside: 25 pounds of cow manure.

Argenziano had the package delivered Wednesday to lobbyist Jodi Chase on the fourth floor of the Capitol, as dozens of other lobbyists looked on outside the House and Senate chambers.

Chase, worried something dangerous could be inside, called Capitol Police. After determining the package did not contain a bomb, police returned it to Argenziano's office in the Capitol.

Argenziano's aides were undeterred. They then took the package to Chase's office and left it with a note that said, "You left this when you were an uninvited guest in my office yesterday."

Chase, a lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida, opposed Argenziano in this session's fight over nursing home legislation. Argenziano said she delivered the package to send a message back to Chase, whom she believes was trying to annoy her Tuesday by coming into her office to watch debate over the nursing home bill on closed-circuit TV.

"She's never been in my office before. She's never been in the suite before," the Dunnellon Republican lawmaker said. "That was her way of saying, ha, ha, I got what I wanted. She thought it was funny at the expense of the elderly. I don't like her arrogance."

Argenziano said she got out the Lysol and began spraying her office when she heard Chase had visited.

And on Wednesday she stopped at a feed store and picked up some cow manure.

"That was my message back to her. She's met her match," Argenziano said.

By day's end, House Speaker Tom Feeney was saying he will likely send Argenziano a letter admonishing her for the stunt. But he did not demand that Argenziano apologize on the House floor, as Chase suggested.

"I can't force people to say what they don't want to say. She does have a First Amendment right in that regard," Feeney said. But there is a difference between speech and actions, Feeney said.

"I don't think the founding fathers were talking about lap dancing or delivering that kind of package," Feeney said.

Argenziano, who voted against the nursing home bill backed by the GOP leadership on Wednesday, could lose her chairmanship of the House Council for Healthy Communities, he said.

"People do need to make choices about whether they want to be in leadership or be mavericks," Feeney said.

The episode was the latest colorful chapter for Argenziano, a feisty Brooklynite who was first elected in 1996 to represent a district that includes Citrus and parts of Hernando and Marion counties.

In 1999, a letter written by her aide but signed by the lawmaker criticized several government workers by name and suggested to Gov. Jeb Bush that problems at the Southwest Florida Water Management District might be solved by exploding a nuclear device over the district's Brooksville headquarters

Swiftmud officials took the threat seriously, reviewing security measures with employees.

Her aide was later fired but was on hand Wednesday to help deliver the package to Chase's office.

On Wednesday, Jon Shebel, president of Associated Industries, filed a formal complaint with Feeney about the package of manure.

Shebel called it "low rent, immature, indefensible and libelous" and urged Feeney to force Argenziano to apologize to Chase on the House floor.

Recalling the events, Chase said she walked into Argenziano's office to watch the nursing home debate because the office across the hall was watching a Senate debate.

"I didn't know what to do when the package arrived," Chase said. "I'm embarrassed for the House."

When advised of Shebel's complaint, Argenziano was not the least apologetic.

"It means nothing," Argenziano said. "I deserve an apology from Jodi Chase. What she did to me was sarcastic and vindictive and shows this is a very mean lady."

Within an hour Wednesday afternoon, Argenziano had collected signatures from about 50 House members saying that what she did fell within her First Amendment rights.

"My colleagues are all very supportive and understand she is very arrogant."

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