Convicted felons are not allowed to vote, own guns, serve on a jury, or apply for government benefits. They are, however, allowed to run for Congress as long as they meet the relatively sparse constitutional requirements of being over 30, a US citizen for nine years, and a state resident. Ex-con Michael Kokoski has spent most of the last two decades in federal prison, and is running mostly on the basis of his arrest record. I found out about the candidate after he commented on a post shared by Ludacris on Facebook about funny gym fails. The former deadhead comes off like Jeff Lebowski mixed with Bill Dauterive, and looks like Mickey Rourke from an alternate universe where instead of taking up boxing, he did a bunch of LSD.
Predictably, his proposed policies are centered around getting rid of drug laws, the IRS, and gun bans, using his criminal history as a selling point. He told Vocativ, "politicians are criminals… I'm a criminal they can trust." His opposition, acting-incumbent Brian Schatz, is currently leading Kokowski by about 60 to 70 points. I called Michael in Hawaii to ask about his lawbreaking, jailbreaking, and heartbreaking history, and he was only too happy to talk.
VICE: So, you're an actual convicted felon running for senate?
Michael Kokoski: Oh, absolutely. I got busted for conspiracy to possess LSD with intent to distribute. And gee what an education that was. You hear about that kind of stuff, but you really don't understand what it is until you get caught in the web.
This woman sent a letter to my house in West Virginia, back in 1991, and it had LSD in it. The DEA said that the one gram of powderised LSD could make 20,000 doses. They weighed the paper too and said I had 37-and-a-half grams of this stuff, so they wanted to charge me as if I've got almost a million doses of LSD. They're like, you've got two choices: You could plead guilty, and the judge will sentence you to a mandatory minimum of about 360 months to life in prison without possibility of parole. That's door number one. Then they said that door number two is that I could come in, completely debrief, and tell them all of my knowledge of the thing that's called Grateful Dead Organisation, they used to be some friends of mine. I guess they'd been keeping records for a long time.
Sorry, what was the Grateful Dead Organization?
Oh, well, see, the DEA estimated that the people who were attracted to The Grateful Dead, they're responsible for about 98 percent of all the LSD that was distributed in the United States over the last 30-something years. The GDO was just a catchall phrase that the federal government came up with to describe the LSD distribution network here in the United States.
What was your part in it?
I was getting acid for about 30 cents a hit, and I would sell it for 35 or 40 cents a hit. But it was so cheap and it was so plentiful, so abundant, that we just used that as a form of currency. The joke was that our paper was better than theirs.
OK, go ahead.
So they said, "If you help us get convictions against these people and put them in prison for the rest of their lives, we can have you home in 18 months." I thought, Gee that doesn't look too good. So I said I'll take door number three: I'm crazy, and you can't prosecute me. And when I got to the federal medical facility in Butner, North Carolina, where they do mental evaluations, I told them that I was an archangel on a special mission for God, and that Adolf Hitler was the Antichrist before the end of time, and that my charges were conspiracy to overthrow the United States government.
So you faked being crazy.
Yep, and while I was going through all these loop-de-loops, trying to play crazy to avoid going to prison, the United States Sentencing Commission changed the way they measured LSD for sentencing purposes, and they no longer measured the entire carrier medium along with the minuscule amount of LSD that might've been on that paper. But then they had a malingering expert come in who said I was probably competent to stand trial after I talked to a bunch of psychiatrists. So, they come to me with a plea agreement the day of trail, and said that the United States government would seek a sentence of a mandatory minimum of life in prison without the possibility of release unless I agreed to plead guilty, and they gave me ten minutes to make up my mind. I told them, "You're crazier than I ever thought about being. I did it, and you better lock me up or I'll do it again." I plead guilty.
How long was your sentence?
They gave me 144 months, and they sent me to a minimum security prison camp for nonviolent offenders in a prison with no locked doors, no armed guards, no fence, no nothing. I was there 31 days and left. It just was not for me. I didn't feel welcome there, and so I got up out the door and left.
When you say you left, like literally, you just walked out?
I just opened the door and left, it was unlocked. It was an honour camp. Probably two guards for 500 or 600 prisoners. There's no fence around the place, there's absolutely nothing to keep you there.
Where'd you go?
It's funny, a psychiatrist who talked to me before my trial, he asked me an unusual question. He asked how many sexual partners I'd had. I don't think anyone's ever asked me that, and you know, I'm kind of playing the part of a crazy guy who's got a very low IQ. I figure guys like that, they don't get lucky very often. So I told him, "I don't know uh bout-bout-bout-bout 32." But when I got back to my cell, I started to think about every woman I've ever known.
Was 32 the real number?
No, no, it ended up being 128 or some crazy stuff. But I'd come to the conclusion that the next woman I kissed was going to be my wife.
Wow. So you walked out of jail and found a wife?
I went to Montana and I married the first woman I kissed. A woman named Kim. This poor lady, her ex-husband was a Nazi out of Hayden Lake, Idaho. I told her, "I'm looking for someone that I can love forever and ever." And when I told her that, she looked at me and she said, "Well, praise God, because I'm looking for a husband."
Are you still with her?
Well… one day she comes to the grand conclusion that I was Jesus Christ, and that was the most bizarre thing ever.
She thought you were the actual son of God?
I told her, "No, Kim, I'm just a friend of his," and she says, "Oh no, you can't fool me, I know who you are. I've been looking for you my whole life." See, Kim had been injured in the largest chemical spill in US history in Alberton, Montana back in 1996, and I figured it must've affected her thinking in some way. So I took her straight to the doctor and they gave her pills to take, and she didn't take them, and it was just the most bizarre thing in the world. We ended up living in a double-decker school bus that I built up in the great northwest, up in Montana. I had a great life.
What happened to her?
Well, they ended up putting Kim in a nuthouse and then they arrested me trying to sign her out of the nuthouse. I was escaped for 33 months. She stayed with me while I was in prison until I got out, but by then, it was way too much.
When were you released?
In 2008. I got a job as an aerospace machinist, manufacturing wings for commercial jet aircrafts in Nashville, Tennessee. I was making like $65 an hour, I was making district court judge money. I guess they didn't like that, and I don't know, I ended up violating my probation because of dirty urine from marijuana.
Oh, so you were smoking while you were on probation?
Oh yeah, well see, that's the way the feds do it. You go to prison for 20 years, and then when you get out, they want you doing six years of probation afterward, so it seems kind of backward to me to do it like that, but they do a lot of things that I think are backward.
Ho*w did you end up in Hawaii?
*Well, they let me out on Yom Kippur in 2012, and I told them to drop me off at the airport in Houston, and I flew straight to Oahu. My sister in Arizona, she bought me a one-way airplane ticket, and the island really welcomed me. Now I'm living in a three-bedroom penthouse apartment in Waikiki.
What do you do for a living?
I go to automobile auctions, I buy cars that've been wrecked, I fix 'em up, sell 'em on Craigslist, and I make more money selling cars than I could ever make selling dope. I got this little Mercedez-Benz convertible that I bought for $42, it's bad-ass. It's nice.
What made you want to run for office?
I was at a stopped light right before the primary season and I noticed some campaign posters over to the side, and I thought, You know what, my name would look good there too. I had been watching the Senate seat, and thought, Boy, if they were to put me in the United States Senate, I would wreck that whole house, man. They've got a hundred lawmakers in there. If they were to put one good lawbreaker in there, I could make a huge difference. I'd break those unconstitutional laws and get them off the books.
A photo Michael Kokoski sent for this interview
It seems like your big issue is ending the drug war.
Well, when I was in prison, I was forced to learn law, and through my studies I came to the grand conclusion that the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, that thing right there, the whole drug war, is a bill of attainder because it renders a legislative determination of guilt. We've been subjected to trial by legislature. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book of the tyrants. That's why it's gotta go. When Nixon passed that bill in 1972 there were 33,500 prisoners, state, and federal, total in the whole United States. Today there's more than two million people locked up, and 75 percent of those people are in there based on this drug legislation. They did that to shut up those Vietnam War protestors who were making all that trouble and all that noise for the Nixon administration.
Are you still on probation?
Oh, no. I'm done now. I couldn't run for office if I were still on probation.
But you still can't vote, right?
Yeah, I can. The state of Hawaii restores your voting rights when you're no longer on any form of probation. The only rights that don't come back are your gun rights, and that's the scariest thing of all.
You're running against the incumbent. What makes you a better candidate?
Yeah, I'm running against Brian Schatz, and I feel that I'm the only candidate on the ticket who's qualified for this seat because I feel I'm the only person who knows what to do with it. Brian Schatz was appointed by the governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, to fill Daniel Inouye's seat. Daniel Inouye was a World War II veteran, a hero, and he was the longest-serving United States Senator in history, so those are some real big shoes to fill right there, but the problem with the incumbent was that right before Daniel Inouye died, he wrote a letter to Neil Abercrombie saying that when he dies, to please give this seat to Colleen Hanabusa, which was another Democrat out here in Hawaii. She was a congress lady. Well, Neil Abercrombie completely disregarded the deathbed letter of the most loved senator in Hawaiian history and, instead, appointed his own lieutenant governor, which is Brian Schatz. And you know, the incumbent governor of Hawaii was severely defeated in the primary by an unknown candidate named David Ige. This guy, Brian Schatz, he's never been elected to office. He's raised millions of dollars in his campaign, but he will not attend any of the candidate's forums.
Have you ever met him?
I met him one time. He seemed timid. He couldn't hold my gaze, or maybe he didn't want to look me in the face, and it seemed like his hand was just a wet towel. Something about the guy, I don't trust him and I don't like him.
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