An old political adage holds that nothing important happens in the U.S. Congress during an election year.
But, this is 2020, and that adage has gone the way of dinosaurs, dodo birds, civil political discourse and major bipartisan congressional action.
With the Nov. 3 general election rapidly approaching, here’s a sample of action items churning their way through Congress: trillions in relief money for an economy stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, unrest in major cities after police shootings of black suspects, fallout from Democrats' impeachment of President Donald Trump, aid for victims of wildfires in California and of 10 — so far — hurricanes in the Southeast, and angry liberals as a Trump appointee seems poised to tilt the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court to conservatives.
Adding to the weirdness, there is this from one of the four candidates qualified to run for Florida’s District 6 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives:
“I’m not actively campaigning,” said Alan Grayson, a write-in candidate. “I do not expect to get any votes.”
Grayson, a lawyer and Windermere Democrat, said he qualified as a write-in to prevent Republican incumbent Michael Waltz from getting re-elected without opposition. When opposition appeared in the form of Democrat Clint Curtis and write-in Gerry Nolan, Grayson stopped campaigning, with about $81,000 in his Federal Election Commission war chest.
Both Grayson and Curtis have long records of congressional campaigning and headline-grabbing controversies. Grayson, with a reputation as an eccentric liberal, served three terms in the House, one in District 8 and two in District 9, which at the time covered parts of Orange County.
During his congressional career, Grayson got national television exposure by saying on the floor of the House: “The Republicans want you to die quickly if you do get sick.”
And, when the Tea Party, a group composed of mostly Republican conservatives, were amassing power, Grayson sent out a fundraising letter using the image of a burning cross, to represent the Ku Klux Klan, when spelling Tea Party.
Curtis got on the national political radar in 2006, when he ran against then-incumbent Tom Feeney for the District 24 seat, which covered areas in Seminole and Volusia counties. A computer programmer, Curtis accused his former employer, Yang Enterprises, and Feeney of asking him to help them steal votes for Republicans by rigging touch-screen computer systems.
Thus, the campaigns boiled down to Curtis calling Feeney a crook and Feeney calling Curtis crazy. Curtis eventually lost. He ran again in 2008, losing in the Democratic primary to eventual winner Suzanne Kosmas. Curtis briefly moved to California, where he unsuccessfully ran for yet another congressional seat. Returning to Florida, he lost another congressional bid, this time for yet another Orlando-based district in 2016.
Curtis returned to Florida and settled in DeLand. Although he mostly stays with the party on most issues, he sometimes veers away. For example, he doesn’t support Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plans to get legislative leaders involved in the U.S. Constitution Amendment 25 process of removing a president who is mentally or physically unable to carry out his duties.
Although Pelosi denies she is targeting Trump, Curtis said the public would see any move to get Congress involved in the Amendment 25 process as an attempt to restart the impeachment process.
“I don’t know if that’d work. Trump’s nuts,” Curtis said. “But he’s always been nuts.”
Both Curtis and write-in candidate Gerry Nolan live in DeLand, in the heart of District 6, which encompasses all of Volusia County and extends as far north as a small part of St. Johns County, where the incumbent Waltz, a retired Army officer, lives.
Curtis and Nolan, a real-estate developer who has no political-party affiliation, said the incumbent is isolated from his constituents.
“I’m angry about it,” Nolan said. “The voters should be angry. This is absurd.”
Similar complaints were made in the 2016 District 6 campaign between Democratic challenger Bill McCullough and then-incumbent Republican Ron DeSantis, who left Congress in 2018 to successfully run for governor.
McCullough, with almost no campaign funds, got 41 percent of the vote, compared to almost 59 percent for DeSantis.
Nolan and Curtis both lag far behind the incumbent in campaign contributions. As of the last report, Curtis had collected slightly less than $13,900 and Nolan about $4,900. Those totals compare to Waltz’s more than $1.7 million.
With that kind of war chest, Waltz can afford to sit back and let political advertisements do his campaigning for him. He’s an ardent supporter of Trump. A lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, Waltz was in the Special Forces in the Army and served in combat areas. He now runs a small defense-contracting firm and, after his 2018 election, became the first Green Beret in Congress.
Although Waltz’s road to re-election seems rather smooth, Republicans still are wary. Typical election-year practices, such as speeches to large groups and standing on street corners shaking hands, are out because of social distancing and fears of spreading the pandemic. And, nobody can predict what will happen between now and when votes are counted.
“I don't know of any Republican who’s taking anything for granted,” said Paul Deering, a DeLand retiree who is chairman of the county’s Republican Executive Committee. “We’re working in a different situation.”
ABOUT THE JOB:
The winner of the race will represent District 6 in the U.S. House of Representatives for a two-year term. The representative will vote on legislation governing the country and on such issues as the federal budget. Representatives are paid an annual salary of $174,000, but federal law also gives them allowances for expenses ranging from $1.17 million to $1.8 million per year.
Incumbent Michael Waltz, of St. Augustine Beach, is a Republican seeking his second term. He first ran in 2018 after fellow party member Ron DeSantis left the District 6 seat to successfully run for governor.
Clint Curtis, of DeLand, is a Democrat who has made several unsuccessful bids for Congress from both Central Florida and California. He won the Aug. 18 Democratic primary for the District 6 seat.
Gerry Nolan, of DeLand, has no political-party affiliation and is running as a write-in candidate. A real-estate developer, this is his first bid for a political office.
Alan Grayson, of Windermere, also is on the ballot as a write-in candidate, but he has stopped campaigning and has endorsed Curtis. A Democrat, Grayson served in Congress from Central Florida districts in the 2000s.
JURISDICTION, AND WHO CAN VOTE:
District 6 runs from a small piece of southern St. Johns County through all of Flagler and Volusia counties, into eastern Putnam and Lake counties, and south into a small portion of Seminole County. All registered voters who live within the congressional district may cast a ballot in this race.