Santa Claus is coming to Congress, but he won't make it in time for Christmas. That's thanks to David Curson, who defeated reindeer-ranching RepublicanKerry Bentivolio, a Santa impersonator, in a special election to fill Michigan's 11th District seat from next week through the start of the new term. Bentivolio defeated physician Syed Taj in the full-term race and will be sworn in as the district's representative January 3. Former Rep. Thad McCotter resigned from the seat in July after his election petitions were found to be fraudulent.
Hotline on Call caught up with Curson on his plans for the lame-duck stint. Curson said the results of his close election have not yet been made official, but once the Clerk of the House receives a certificate of election, House Speaker John Boehner can swear him in. He anticipates that will happen Tuesday or Wednesday, but he's making the trip early to prepare for his short term. "I'm gonna drive down Saturday," Curson said. "I look like the Beverly Hillbillies; I got everything packed up in my pickup truck."
As for his living arrangements, he's getting by with a little help from a friend -- Dean of the House John Dingell. "Congressman Dingell graciously has offered me a room until I get my feet on the ground, a bed to sleep in," Curson said. He said he'll look for temporary housing or maybe a hotel or "I might just be a vagabond for seven weeks."
He said his relationships with members of the Michigan delegation -- Dingell, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, and Reps. Gary Peters and John Conyers -- will be an asset as he tries to make a quick adjustment. Some of them have offered to loan him staffers so he's ready to "go to work on Day 1" without the usual distractions of getting settled in.
Those friendships were forged during Curson's years as a United Auto Workers negotiator, a position he says has him well-prepared for the dealings of the lame duck. "I've literally been involved in thousands of negotiations," Curson said. "In every (UAW) negotiation with the Big Three (automakers) -- I've literally been involved in every one since 1982." He also mentioned his role in helping secure loans that enabled President Obama's bailout of the auto industry.
Curson declined to discuss his positions on the lame duck session's two biggest issues -- sequestration and the expiring Bush tax cuts -- "I learned a long time ago that you don't negotiate in the media" -- but expressed hope that Congress could reach a deal. "If everybody thinks they've walked away with a little piece of the pie, we could move some legislation by the end of the year," Curson said.
While a seven-week stint isn't what most candidates envision, Curson said the important issues Congress will address in that brief time inspired him to run, and he has no further aspirations to hold higher office. He spent his campaign fighting the misperception that he would serve briefly in Washington, then walk away with a lifetime taxpayer-funded pension and healthcare -- benefits that only kick in after five years of service. Roughly 80 percent of the people he talked to thought he would enjoy those perks, he said.
While his campaign was abbreviated and low-budget, Curson said he connected with people throughout the district through retail politicking and door-knocking, and his army of volunteers -- UAW members and local Democratic organizations -- helped drive turnout. He was helped by the fact that the "old" 11th District is less GOP-heavy than the redistricted incarnation Bentivolio will represent.
Bentivolio told voters throughout the campaign that a special election win would give him seniority over the other freshmen arriving for the new term January 3. Curson said that didn't seem to impact the race and noted his short stint won't come with all the typical disadvantages of a new representative. "(McCotter) was a five-term congressman, so I'm gonna get a pretty good office for a few weeks," Curson said.
Curson said he's excited to have a voice, if only briefly, in the work of Congress. "It will be a thrill to be a part of the process, to be a part of the group that has actual lawmaking responsibility," Curson said. "This session has important stuff to do, and I have a very small window to be a part of that. I was happy and thrilled to take a shot at it."