ELDRIDGE, Iowa – Pillaging, plundering and grog, sweet grog — James Hill is happy to discuss the finer points of pirate life. Just not before you hear him out on lobbying reform.
"Lobbying should be illegal," said Hill, a self-professed "drunken pirate" who is running for Congress as an independent in Iowa's 1st District. "It amounts to taxation without representation."
Lobbying probably never irked Blackbeard, nor is it likely that William Kidd rued the lack of transparency in government. But Hill, a former factory worker and stablehand who's wrapped himself in Jolly Roger in his long-shot bid for Congress, isn't your average buccaneer.
Assuming the pirate mantle is partly about ethos and partly about drawing attention, Hill said.
"I have to get a little bit of notoriety," he said. "On the other hand, this kind of attitude will keep me straight and it will help keep them (Congress) straight."
For Hill, being a pirate is more about mind-set than physical prototype, which probably explains why he is somewhat lacking in pirate credentials.
Though he sports a suitably scraggly beard, it is carrot-colored, not black. His animal companions are dogs, not parrots. And he opts to navigate the district on a Kawasaki motorcycle rather than a three-masted schooner. His bike does sports a small skull and cross bones sticker, though.
It may sound strange coming from a pirate, but Hill insists his campaign is about ideas, not imagery.
"Before we were a country they — pirates — were running mini-democracies. We need to get back to that," he said, adding an unsolicited promise that he will bring more "swashbuckling" to Congress if elected.
To many, the pirate's campaign is just a lot of yo-ho-hum.
Hill's major opponents — Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Mike Whalen — have more or less ignored his candidacy in their intense fight for the open seat. Hill also has struggled to get local media coverage and has managed only one debate invitation so far.
Braley spokesman Jeff Giertz acknowledged that the Democrat hasn't paid much attention to Hill.
"I've spoken to the pirate captain," Giertz said. "He was friendly."
But Hill said he's been pleasantly surprised by how much his profile soared on the Internet after his campaign Web site, www.jameshillforcongress.com, was linked by the popular Fark.com.
When Hill announced his candidacy in August, bloggers of all political stripes wrote him up, many expressing surprise that there were pirates in Iowa.
Hill hopes the Web hits keep coming until he reaches his goal — a sizable percentage in November's election.
"I want to light up the board, I want to have some kind of percentage," he said.
And if he's somehow elected?
"I won't mind getting in front of people and asking them hard questions," Hill said. "I bet I'll be the most honest person in Washington."