Harvard University law professor and political activist Lawrence Lessig just dove headfirst into the U.S. presidential race after crowd-funding $1 million in small donations. He reached his goal just hours before his Labor Day deadline and will officially declare his candidacy in New Hampshire on Wednesday.
Much of the news coverage of Lessig has treated him more as a concept than as an individual. Now that he is entering the Democratic race, it's time voters got a more personal glimpse of the first potential "Referendum President" in U.S. history. Even if his bid is a long-shot, he is breaking all the political rules, and he might just make an impact. Voters should know who he is and what he wants to do.
What sets Lessig apart from the other candidates -- aside from being a Harvard Law professor -- is that he is the only candidate pledging to resign almost as soon as he is elected. He explained how it would all work when I interviewed him in Salem, New Hampshire this week, shortly before a meet-and-greet with a few dozen supporters.
Lessig's rallying cry centers around the idea of representative democracy. He believes the U.S. has "not yet achieved the idea the framers [of the constitution] gave us, where we would have a democracy in which the citizens were created equal."
We sat at a tiny table in the back of the Colosseum restaurant, a Salem institution, and covered everything from his reasons to run to his love of Game of Thrones.
Ten Things You Should Know About Lawrence Lessig:
1) Lessig is running as a single-issue candidate aiming to remove big money from politics. Once elected he would use his mandate to get Congress to pass his Citizens Equality Act of 2017, which calls for the equal right to vote, equal representation and citizen-funded elections. (He also proposes to make Election Day a national holiday to encourage voter participation).
2) Lessig proposes election vouchers for all Americans. Here's how it would work: $50 of each citizen's taxes would be rebated in the form of a voucher that could be applied to support the candidate(s) of his or her choosing. He estimates these vouchers would create $7 billion in spending power in the hands of the American public and would make politicians accountable to the voters, and not just special interests, overnight. This voucher would look like a Starbucks gift card and fit in your wallet.
3) Forget summer. Winter is coming and that's A-OK with Lessig because he loves Game of Thrones. John Snow is his guy.
4) He's one of the few legal scholars to predict the Supreme Court will ban SuperPACS without overturning Citizens United and believes that decision might never have happened if Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had been on the court.
5) Despite running on a platform that calls for equal political access for all American, Lessig does not favor camera access in the Supreme Court. He cites congressional speeches on the House floor, which he says are a sham for C-SPAN viewers and networks, and are not intended to advance debate or persuade voting colleagues. He worries the same empty speeches might overcome the highest court in the land, including his old boss, Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Lessig clerked for after law school. (The two still keep in touch.)
6) If elected Lessig would only serve as long as it takes for his Citizens Equality Act to pass and then he would hand the reigns over to his Vice President. When asked whom he would prefer as his VP he defers to the voters, but indicated a preference for Senator Elizabeth Warren or Senator Bernie Sanders.
7) He's dying to see the musical "Hamilton." Interestingly, he has no issue with Alexander Hamilton, the orphaned, immigrant, self-made rags-to-riches abolitionist architect of Federalism and the American economic system getting the boot off the $10 bill, instead of the slave-owning warmongering populist Andrew Jackson. Clearly, persuading him is a job for none other than Hamilton's show-stopping talent Lin-Manual Miranda. To be fair, Lessig is no fan of Jackson either. He's partial to James Madison and calls him his favorite founding father.
8) This father of three young children believes Millennials are far more inspiring than his own generation. He's on the cusp of Baby Boomer and Gen X. He describes his generation as being a "read-only" culture while Millennials in his view are daring and creative.
9) Lessig loves to walk. Outside. In frigid temperatures. He walked across snow-covered New Hampshire last January with several hundred supporters and members of the New Hampshire Rebellion, a cross-partisan group dedicated to eradicating big money in politics. The secret to his walking success? Sock liners. He swears by the liners under his socks. His only advice when asked how not to freeze your face off was to "keep walking." "Live free or die by your socks?" I asked, to which he corrected, "liners."
10) Finally there's Donald Trump. When asked, "what do you like about Trump?" He replied as you might expect a libertarian constitutional law professor would: "Um, [like] is a hard word to use in the context of a sentence about Donald Trump." But he went on to say, "What I like is his willingness to say what is true openly about the corruption of this political system, to acknowledge it and to be bold about it...that has done enormous good for the cause of getting America - not just Republicans and Democrats separately, but America together - to acknowledge and deal with this problem."