RUSKIN, FLA. – Doug Hughes, the man most of the country knows for his Washington, D.C. gyrocopter stunt protesting the corrupting influence of money in politics, is taking action in a new way: he plans to run for Congress.
His opponent? U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), who serves as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
In an interview for IVN, Hughes claimed that Schultz has “abused her power as head of the DNC” and “enraged progressives” through several recent actions. Most recently, she found herself at the center of a scandal in which the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D – VT) sued the DNC over its removal of their access to their own voter information after a data breach.
The dispute was resolved out of court, but the backlash was strong: many among the progressive wing of the Democratic Party believe that Schultz is tilting the presidential primary election in favor of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D).
Hughes has said that Schultz represents everything he protested in his gyrocopter stunt, claiming that she seems to favor particular candidates and that she has scheduled fewer primary debates than the Republicans on purpose. This “Boss Tweed-style politics,” Hughes has said, is at the core of Washington dysfunction and lack of leadership.
Should he claim victory in November 2016, Hughes plans on reaching out to fellow Democrats and populist Republicans to build a coalition focused on building a “wall of separation between money and government.” This coalition, Hughes proposes, would work to recruit “honest” candidates to challenge incumbents in primary elections and advance their reform agenda without disrupting the partisan makeup of Congress.So, what stands in his way?
Hughes doesn't view his legal troubles – his sentencing for operating an aircraft without a license will come in mid-April and the prosecution is requesting a ten-month sentence – as being a handicap. He has asked the judge for permission to travel to Philadelphia, where he plans to walk with thousands of Democracy Spring demonstrators on their march to Washington, D.C. to demand congressional action on the influence of money in politics.
Hughes does not plan on risking arrest during the civil disobedience portion of the program, but plans to be a strong figure for the cause.
The event will, of course, be a boon to Hughes' campaign – the outpour of support for both the cause and his freedom could create a perfect storm of financial supporters and volunteers. According to Hughes, the event in April could be an opportunity that “most candidates can only dream of.”
Constitutionally, nothing is stopping him. The Constitution has three conditions for being a candidate for the House of Representatives: he or she must be at least 25 years old, have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and live in the district he or she hopes to represent.
States may not add to these requirements, for example, by prohibiting a felon from running for federal office.
Of the two major obstacles facing Hughes' potential run, one is technical: he currently resides in Ruskin, Fla., which is not a part of the 23rd Congressional District he seeks to represent. A condition of his freedom following his guilty plea in the gyrocopter incident means that he cannot leave his county of residence.
Last week, Hughes' lawyers filed papers requesting that he be allowed to travel throughout Florida to meet with various community groups.
The other major obstacle, which will be much more difficult, is mounting a successful campaign against one of the most prominent names in the Democratic Party. While unseating an incumbent – particularly one of Schultz's caliber – is no easy task, it is not unheard of: in the 2014 midterm elections, Rep. David Brat (R) of Virginia shocked the political world by defeating former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) in the primary.
Hughes sees Schultz as being just as vulnerable, remarking that she has never faced a primary challenge and that her recent scandals can only harm her chances. The path to victory, Hughes reasons, lies in augmenting his already-formidable media presence with a large get-out-the-vote effort.
Will Hughes' latest action against money in politics succeed? Maybe. In his words, “Just like the flight, I just need to do it to find out what happens.”