"Hollywood for ugly people."
It is not a phrase coined by Michigan independent congressional candidate Cooper Nye. However, Nye says he can see why some people have come to view Washington, DC this way after working in the nation's capital.
And the phrase -- from Nye's point of view -- is not a personal attack against individual policymakers on Capitol Hill, but rather a statement on how DC is run and the ugly, partisan, sometimes corrupt culture that has taken hold in Washington.
Cooper Nye is running in Michigan's 11th Congressional District, which is currently represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Trott. Nye says he returned to Michigan from DC with a new purpose: he needed to run for Congress.
How A Netflix Documentary Inspired a Candidacy
Nye says his decision to run for Congress was in some ways triggered by a Netflix documentary called, Saving Capitalism, and its analysis of the popularity of outsider candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election.
"It really clicked for me that this is a platform that has more viewers than cable television. People are attuned to this, and they really want an alternative," Nye said in an interview for IVN
He said he saw an opportunity when watching overlapping interviews of people who liked Sanders and then voted for Trump in the general election. It was clear to him that the two parties were fracturing, and people want someone they can trust to fight for them.
"I started talking to different friends and people around the country, and I was encouraged to do it," says Nye. "I called my mom and dad and I said, 'Hey, I am going to quit my job and move home to run for Congress,' and after going through it more they are supporting me, and I am finding a lot of like-minded people everywhere I look."
"Hollywood for Ugly People"
On his website, Nye said he went to Washington after graduating from college to find something worth fighting for, but was unable to find it. Instead, he got first-hand experience on why some people call DC "Hollywood for ugly people."
"Talking heads on T.V., actors in Congress, and lobbyists on K Street, worship the same things—money, power, prestige. Elites enrich themselves and crush competition. Politicians put party before country. And the media produces spectacle instead of substance," his website says.
Nye noted in his interview for IVN that the greed in Washington has left Congress in the hands of "20-year-olds" because of the fundraising expectations party leaders put on their caucus.
"The members themselves spend 3-7 hours a day fundraising or going to different meetings with associations and so on, and are running this country, they're getting paid nothing to do it, and there is not enough time in the day where any human being could possibly master all of these complex areas of law," says Nye.
Those who watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver may remember the top story he did back in 2016 about congressional fundraising, during which he cites a report from The Hill that says members of Congress can spend "25-50% ... of their time fundraising."
60 Minutes further implied that the amount of time lawmakers spend fundraising for their party has effectively turned them into telemarketers as they are told that is their number one priority.
Nye believes that this, in and of itself, creates a layer of dysfunction in Congress.
"These guys are raising so much because if they want to have an influence, if they want a nice assignment to an important committee, they have to raise tons of money for their party. So they end up doing that instead of serving their constituents," he says.
Nye further explains that the influence lobbyists and special interests and donors have in Washington just adds to the existing media problem and political problem that have turned DC into the swamp that it is:
"Seven or eight of the 13 wealthiest counties in the United States are around DC, and that's the lobbyists and this influence industry that has ballooned into this beast that shapes the agendas, the messaging, and everything, and it's no wonder that 92% of Americans think that the government is run by a few big interests."
"It kind of is."
Cleaning Up The Swamp: The American Anti-Corruption Act
The immediate question on many voters' minds when they hear independents like Nye talk about the myriad of problems that have created the political environment we have now is what do they plan to do about it. What measures do they support?
Nye says his priority if elected will be to pass The American Anti-Corruption Act because the biggest thing for him is accountability and he believes this law is the best way to improve that:
"It will stop political bribery and outline contributions from lobbyists. It's going to stop politicians from fundraising during working hours. It's going to end secret money by requiring immediate disclosure online, and stop donors from hiding behind secret money groups. It's going to fix our election system by ending gerrymandering, opening primaries, shifting to ranked choice voting, automatically register voters, and enforce the rules ."
It's a bill that certainly hits the trifecta for those who individually might be concerned about secret money in politics, two-party control of the electoral process, and/or political bribery.
"It's out there. It's a great bill. It just needs awareness," Nye adds.
The American Anti-Corruption Act has the support of several reformers, including Harvard professor and IVN editorial voice Lawrence Lessig, and the nonpartisan group, Represent.us.
According to Represent.us, resolutions in support of the American Anti-Corruption Act as well as similar anti-corruption measures have passed in local communities from Arizona to Illinois to Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
The Road to November
Cooper Nye launched his campaign a couple weeks ago, and says he feels good about his experience so far and it has been "a fun process."
"Everywhere I go I am finding people who want to get involved, cause everyone after the 2016 election is like, 'Man, we need to do something different,'" he says. "There is a real appetite for engagement I've never seen around here."
He says he is running as as a "moderate independent," which means "not having the answers before you think about the problem."
"For me, it means having a principled, practical approach to solving problems. I have principles -- those do not change -- but I am very open-minded with regards to policy solutions and legislative solutions," he says. "It means looking at the facts in every unique case, because you really can't adopt a one-size-fits-all approach in politics."
Cooper Nye must get 3,000 signatures by July 19 to qualify for the November ballot. He says this is feasible, but it is also three times the number of signatures major party candidates have to get.
Nye also explained that major party candidates could pay a fee in lieu of turning in petition signatures, which means they do not have to show any level of support to get on the ballot.
How severely the 11th district is gerrymandered also makes it a bit more challenging for independent candidates. Some residents in a particular area could sign the petition for his candidacy while their neighbors could not because of how the district is drawn.
Despite the obstacles, Nye believes there is enough time for him to collect all the valid signatures he will need to appear on the November ballot.
Nye recently spoke at a Congressional Candidate Forum in Royal Oak along with six other candidates running. In a post-event poll, he came within 5 votes of second place.
Not a bad showing for a candidate outside the two dominant political parties, and perhaps further evidence that this is a historic year for independent candidates and the independent movement across the country.