WASHINGTON – A Florida man who pleaded guilty to landing a gyrocopter on a lawn outside the U.S. Capitol as a political protest says he now wants to land a spot inside the building, as a member of Congress.
Douglas Hughes, a Democrat from Ruskin, Florida, declined to say Wednesday in a telephone interview which of Florida's 27 House representatives he plans to challenge. But he said that he would run against a Democrat who is the "poster child for establishment politics" and that he intends to move to the representative's district, which is in South Florida.
The most prominent House Democrat who represents South Florida is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Hughes said that he is not running for Congress as a stunt but to continue his efforts to fight for campaign finance reform and to try to get big money out of politics. He says that was also the motive behind his April 15 gyrocopter flight from Pennsylvania to Washington, which took him through restricted airspace over and around the capital.
"I was dead serious when I flew, and I'm just as serious now," said Hughes, a postal carrier for 13 years who was fired following his flight.
Hughes' interest in running for Congress came to light Wednesday as a result of a court filing. One of his attorneys, Tony Miles, asked a judge to lift some of the restrictions on his freedom ahead of his sentencing so he can start working to get elected.
In the filing, Miles wrote that Hughes wants to travel throughout Florida instead of largely being restricted to Hillsborough County, where he lives. He wants to travel in order to "do the variety of activities one needs to do when seeking office," including meeting voters, making speeches, and seeking support from organizations, Miles wrote.
Miles attached a two-page letter from Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig, who argues that nothing prevents Hughes from running for Congress.
In the letter, Lessig noted that the Florida Constitution says, "No person convicted of a felony . shall be qualified to vote or hold office" until their civil rights are restored. But Lessig wrote that if that section were read to apply to federal as well as state offices, it would be unconstitutional.
Lessig wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court has said that neither Congress nor the states have the power to add to the list of qualifications necessary to run for Congress. According to the U.S. Constitution, the only requirements to run for Congress are that a person be at least 25 years old, have been a citizen for at least seven years and live in the state where elected at the time of the election, Lessig wrote.
The judge overseeing the case, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, asked for more information before deciding whether to change Hughes' release conditions. She asked for the information, including the district he intends to run in, by Dec. 30.
Hughes is set to be sentenced April 13. Prosecutors have agreed not to ask for more than 10 months in prison as part of his plea deal. Hughes' attorneys have said they intend to ask for probation.