RIVERVIEW — Doug Hughes, the former mail carrier who landed his gyrocopter at the U.S. Capitol building to protest big money in politics, finally achieved Wednesday what he set out to do two years ago.
At the post office in Riverview where he worked for 12 years, he mailed 535 letters to 535 members of Congress demanding that they take a stand against the influence of big donations in political campaigns.
"I've got 535 letters I want to mail," said Hughes, 63, sliding the trays of envelopes forward to a clerk who recognized him.
"Do you have postage?" the clerk asked.
"Yes," Hughes said. The letters each bore stamps with a circus theme, which Hughes selected on purpose.
On April 15, 2015, Hughes carried the letters affixed to the landing gear of his gyrocopter as he made his 60-mile "Freedom Flight" from Gettysburg, Pa., to Washington, D.C., penetrating protected airspace, causing a stir on the National Mall and grabbing the attention of national newspapers and television news programs.
He was arrested almost immediately. No one was hurt. Police seized his gyrocopter and letters and Hughes eventually served three months in federal prison and one month in a half-way house for flying without a pilot's license.
But his work wasn't done. He retrieved the letters several months ago and planned to mail them so they'd arrive near the anniversary of his flight.
"This is the limit, as confrontational as I'll be," Hughes said. "Delivering letters."
He's on probation until October, and one perceived violation could mean a year in jail. So he's following rules and avoiding controversy. For now. He visited a gyrocopter event in Wauchula a few weeks ago and longed to be back in the sky.
"There has got to be a gyrocopter in my future," he said. "I miss it."
While finishing probation, he's working on a book he hopes to get published that recounts his flight and lays out his plan for campaign finance reform. He's working on a plan to elect a majority of reformers to Congress in 2020. It involves dragging a new gyrocopter across the country to campaign for reform-minded candidates and to unseat incumbents.
"The energy is there, the awareness is there, and it's bipartisan," Hughes said. "We have got to get the money out of politics before we can do anything about . . . the hot-button issues."
Ben Montgomery can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8650.