Mr. Hughes comes to Washington

Gyroscope, Doug Hughes
Tampa Bay Times

It was a clear morning when a 61-year-old Florida mail carrier named Doug Hughes decided to make public his protest regarding the heinous grip that money has on politics.

So as he has professed to a few in advance, on Tax Day, Hughes flew his gyrocopter from Gettysburg, Pa., to Washington, D.C., and landed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol. An envious view, to be sure, even though the last part was through restricted airspace.

Hughes was hoping to distribute letters to members of Congress to raise awareness about monetary influence in politics. He got their attention and accomplished his mission. Not surprisingly, he was also arrested, charged with operating an unregistered aircraft and violating national airspace. He faces a potential four years in prison, plus fines and no doubt some punishment for embarrassing those in charge of security.

This was no Cliff Clavin spewing random facts, but a self-proclaimed Paul Revere who had a true warning of a festering, growing threat. In flying under the radar — adding to “one if by land, two if by sea” and now “three if by air” — he managed to surprise and thus succeed in having his message heard.

There is much about the under-the-radar strategy. I want to see the Hughes story done by Frank Capra and become a stirring example for others — not to break the law, but to find ways to surprise the public by flying under what radar is in place until the surprise presents itself and the message — or action — connects.

{mosads}This being Washington, let’s look at politics. First, presidential.

We had a brief under-the-radar campaign with former Montana Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who had the perfect resume to run as an alternative to Hillary Clinton from a state few would look to at first for a candidate. It is tough to run under the radar for president these days, but Schweitzer was doing a good job and getting just the right notices when he decided to bow out.

That leaves few others now, especially since Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Republican Carly Fiorina have declared. We still can put Vice President Biden in under the radar hopes. He can make stops in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere, as he has, all under the mantle of promoting President Obama’s agenda. We can pretend it is also for under-the-radar purposes, since it is a nice coincidence that these are states with early presidential tests.

While presidential candidates may find they are not able to fly under radar, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has found a deft way to do just that despite the sometimes scrutiny of Capitol Hill.

McConnell has craftily acted in a bipartisan, leadership manner away from the glare of cameras by working issues in the committees and then presenting them to the full chamber for action. All with a bipartisan bow.

For example, the Senate, by a 92-8 vote, passed a bipartisan bill to prevent a 21 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients, just hours before that cut was to take effect. They have acted on legislation to battle sex trafficking. They are working to fix the No Child Left Behind program. And they found a way to vote on the nomination of Loretta Lynch, who was confirmed as the new attorney general after months of waiting.

Granted, tough issues such as the Iran nuclear deal and the writing and passage of highway reauthorization legislation loom. Yet the successful under-the-radar actions piloted by McConnell suggest possible bipartisan flight in more turbulent weather.

Pilot Hughes said that he was not worried about getting shot down during his flight, that the entire, thrilling journey “had a very surreal nature to it” and that he wished he had a free hand “to pinch myself to see if it was happening.”

Much like the bipartisanship. Somewhat surreal, given all that has not occurred prior to the past month. Yet, as Hughes showed, it is possible. Pinch me perhaps?

Of course, there are moments to fly above the radar and in full view. And coming is an example of that for Congress to emulate.

On Friday, May 8, there will be a massive flyover of the same mall and U.S. Capitol by an armada of World War II aircraft. It is in honor of the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. This “Arsenal of Democracy” flyover will feature a collection of aircraft that has never been assembled at one location, to honor the large assemblage of veterans gathered at the World War II Memorial for a ceremony.

World War II remains a touchstone to the belief and reality of what can be accomplished with daring and bipartisanship, even in the face of multiple setbacks. A combination of the messenger warning of Hughes and the new leadership steps by McConnell may not make Capitol Hill safe for democracy just yet, but they underscore the potential.

Perhaps there will be a bipartisan line outside the U.S Capitol to look skyward when the skies above Washington are filled with reminders of what the nation can accomplish working together.

Squitieri is an award-winning reporter and communications veteran and an adjunct professor at Washington and Jefferson College.

Tags Bernie Sanders Bipartisanship Brian Schweitzer Carly Fiorina Doug Hughes Gyrocopter Hillary Clinton Mitch McConnell

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