There have been a fair share of congressional carpetbaggers in history, but Allan Levene may be the first to assemble an entire set of matched luggage. And he’s using it to run this year for no fewer than four open House seats in four different states.
In a year when the roster of candidates is filled with the usual collection of career politicians, war veterans , minor celebrities and hard-luck cases, Levene stands apart. He's a 64-year-old information technology expert, financial planner and sometime inventor who is "willing to offer myself up wherever required" in order to get to Washington — because he’s so convinced of his aptitude as a policymaker, so concerned about his life expectancy and so worried about his country.
"I simply cannot stand aside," Levene declared during an expansive 30-minute conversation with me on his cellphone Wednesday morning. "I am ready to strike a chord, and I believe I will."
To make a fascinating story short, what he amply manifests in ego and aspiration he totally lacks in political acumen. He doesn’t stand a chance in Minnesota, Michigan, Hawaii or Georgia, where he’s actually lived for the past three decades. But his simultaneous quests, which he claims make him unique in American history, appear legally legit. The Constitution only requires that a representative, "when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen," and Levene promises to quickly establish legal residency wherever he wins his first Republican primary. Federal Election Commission rules say candidates may seek multiple offices so long as they set up "completely separate" committees for each campaign, which Levene is in the process of doing. And he says no election officials in the four states have raised impediments.
But playing aggressively by the rules and succeeding at that strategy are very different. And Levene concedes that, for every voter he wins over with his anti-establishment platform, he confronts one that's suspicious that he’s just another typical politician — albeit one with a creative definition of "doing whatever it takes" to win. (His response is that, at his age, he doesn’t have the time to go district-shopping sequentially, as a typical politician might.)
Levene also concedes he’s got some early campaigning to do with his wife, an accountant who does not see the cost-benefit analysis of his cause the way he does. She has not signed off yet on tapping the couple’s retirement nest egg, which could be required just to buy the requisite airline tickets. A recent wave of national media attention notwithstanding, his Georgia committee — the only one established with the FEC so far — reported just $250 raised in the last quarter and $190 in cash on hand as this year began. (No, the zeros are not missing.)
His detailed and bold legislative agenda includes eliminating all corporate taxes as a way to spur economic growth; phasing out the Social Security Disability Insurance system; creating de facto term limits by denying federal pensions to House members staying longer than four terms and senators staying longer than two; and leveling the federal campaign finance playing field by requiring winners to donate whatever’s left in their war chests and start fresh the next cycle.
"The problems Congress faces are all national, not local," Levene says, "so where you come from matters not as much as what happens when you get to that same place, the Capitol."
Four dozen people have represented two different states in Congress, although the feat has not been accomplished since the 1960s. That was when Republican Ed Foreman, now an 80-year-old motivational speaker in Dallas, won single House terms (separated by four years) in both Texas and New Mexico.
If Levene has an outsider’s chance for an enormous upset, it’s probably in the May 20 primary in Georgia’s solidly Republican 11th District, covering the northwestern Atlanta suburbs including Levene’s hometown of Kennesaw. Rep. Phil Gingrey is relinquishing the seat to run for the Senate, and the eight-person field includes a former member (Bob Barr), a couple of prominent state legislators (Ed Lindsay and Barry Loudermilk) and a wealthy businesswoman with experience in state government (Tricia Pridemore).
If they all split the vote in such a way that Levene somehow squeezes into the runoff, that would require him to abandon his next target of opportunity. That’s because Georgia's second round of voting will be Aug. 5 — the same day Levene plans to be on the primary ballot in Michigan's 14th District, covering part of Detroit and its suburbs. (He chose that race because he "liked the area better than I thought I would" when he lived there decades ago, soon after emigrating from Britain and becoming a naturalized citizen. But he has no viable chance of succeeding Rep. Gary Peters, a Democrat who won with 82 percent in 2012 and now wants to become a senator.)
The timetable leaves Levene just four days to concentrate on his campaign in solidly Democratic Honolulu to become the GOP nominee (and sacrificial lamb) in Hawaii’s 1st, where at least five well-funded Democrats are vying to fill the opening created by Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s up-or-out Senate bid. He’s spent three vacations on the islands and found "the people there are surprisingly industrious," but even in a big GOP wave, his enthusiasm for the place stands no chance of trumping his status as a conservative interloper from the mainland.
And for his last stand, Levene has chosen the Aug. 12 primary in Minnesota’s 6th, where Rep. Michele Bachmann is calling it quits after four tumultuous terms. St. Cloud and the outer Twin Cities suburbs — which the would-be congressman has "visited on business a few times" — are generally Republican, and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer looms as a heavy favorite long before 2014’s most quixotic candidate arrives.
"To be honest, I really don’t want to leave Georgia," Levene conceded. "But I feel compelled to do that if I have to."