The Florida man who flew a gyrocopter onto the Capitol lawn is turning toward a more conventional means to get into Congress: being elected.
Douglas Hughes, who pleaded guilty in Novembe r to a felony charge related to his April 15 flight, said he plans to run for a seat in the House, but is not yet announcing which Democrat he plans to challenge. Hughes faces a maximum of three years in prison with his guilty plea, which means he could be running for Congress from behind bars depending on his sentencing in April.
"I fully intend to get the money out of politics. It’s very much the reason that I flew,” Hughes said in a Thursday phone interview. “I know where I want to run but I’m an old traditionalist."
Hughes said he wants to announce his candidacy, which was first reported by The Associated Press , in the district where he plans to run. But that presents a legal issue since he is confined to his home county of Hillsborough as his trial proceeds.
Hughes' lawyer filed a motion in federal court on Wednesday asking Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to allow Hughes to travel to other parts of the state " because he plans to run for a seat in the United States Congress in a district in Florida which is outside of Hillsborough County."
Kollar-Kotelly responded that before she makes her decision, Hughes must provide additional information by Dec. 30, including in which district he plans to run, in what activities he plans to participate, and if he meets candidacy requirements.
Hughes said representatives from the Florida Department of State told him he would not be barred from running for federal office. Florida law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from voting or holding office, but Hughes noted that Florida law applies to state, not federal, office.
Along with the motion filed Wednesday was a letter from Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig. The former presidential hopeful provided a legal argument for Hughes' campaign, noting that the requirements for congressional candidates outlined in the Constitution do not include language relating to a felony conviction.
"It is my view that Florida law cannot be held to restrict the ability of Mr. Hughes to run for Congress from the state of Florida," Lessig wrote.
He said he does not plan to challenge his hometown congresswoman, Democrat Kathy Castor, because he believes she is a good representative.
"I am going to take a sold-out Democrat who I described as the poster child of establishment politics on the Democratic side," Hughes said. He did not answer a question about whether he intends to challenge Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
Hughes also could not say when exactly he decided to run for Congress, noting that would reveal who he planned to challenge. But he said he has been thinking about running for a Congress for "a very long time," and before his gyrocopter flight. For Hughes, GOP Rep. Dave Brat's surprise victory over then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in 2014 proved he could be successful.
"I’m going to take that person out exactly the same way," Hughes said. "What will happen after this election is we will have proven that every member of Congress is vulnerable in the primary.”
Hughes said his first priority would be serving his constituents, but his other focus would be a campaign finance overhaul, a cause he sought to highlight with his gyrocopter flight.
"I am only doing this because before I die I’m going to get the money out of politics and leave the younger generation a clear shot at representative democracy,” Hughes said.
Hughes is set to return to federal court in D.C. for sentencing on April 13.
"The interesting question that nobody knows the answer to is whether or not I’ll be running from within prison,” Hughes said. Asked if there was an amount of jail time that would prevent him from running, he said, “There isn’t any point at which I’m going to say that this isn’t feasible.”
Hughes is also petitioning the court to participate in “Democracy Spring,” a march from Philadelphia, Pa., on April 2 that would arrive in D.C. in April 11, right before his sentencing. The judge has yet to rule on whether he can attend the rally.
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