Jim Bryan is the write-in candidate for the US Congress in Florida's 1st District. This large district is the panhandle of Florida and covers six counties, and contains the largest concentration of military in the United States. He is running as the only Democrat in that district.
Bryan is the holder of two world records for parachuting, records which still hold today, and also is an expert with nuclear weapons. He has received over 30 combat decorations, including 3 purple hearts and saved over 200 lives.
Jim was a weapons test manager for a major weapons program for the Department of Defense and the United States Army Tactical Nuclear Weapons Program. He is a master parachutist, master gunner and heavy weapons expert. He helped train then 2nd Lieutenant David Patraeus, from 1975 through 1977 and later built a trucking business in Arizona.
Jim also happens to come from a family of bootleggers and moonshiners and is a self described real- life Forrest Gump.
Read how Jim was wounded 6 times (3 times in one night) in his book Walking With Heroes.
Kathleen Wells: Jim, you are running as a write-in candidate for the US Congress for the 1st district in Florida and as a Democrat. Why as a write-in candidate and why as a Democrat?
Jim Bryan: Well, I've always been a Democrat but the main thing is: as I went across this district, people are so upset about looking for leadership and trying to figure out who to vote for or what to vote for. And I said, "Well, this time, I'm going to give them something and someone to vote for."
This district is a red district and it's torn between watching Fox News every day and a whole bunch of idiots out there that are spreading a lot of falsehoods. You know, 10 lies will spread around the world faster than the truth will go an inch. So I said, well, let me give the voters someone to vote for and so I decided to go as a write-in this time. I took no party money from anyone. I just took donations from everyday people that help me with my gas. I said, okay, let's see if the American people will put their vote where their mouth is instead of pushing, especially here, the party line, and let's see if we can get some commonality.
Kathleen Wells: Why should Florida residents write you in, write your name in?
Jim Bryan: Well, here, you've got to look at this district. This district is 74 percent military-affiliated dependents, retirees, and several bases. It's actually the largest concentration of military in the entire United States, in this district of six counties.
Me being a veteran, I said, well, who would be better to represent this district than a combat-wounded veteran, that's retired military? I said, okay, I'll run. I'll run as Jim Bryan, a veteran. And keep in mind, this district has not had a veteran as a congressman and this area was built by a Democrat named Bob Sikes who actually built all these bases.
He pushed to get Eglin expanded into the test program, and the naval base in Pensacola, and he funded all these military installations the whole time he was in Congress. In fact, my grandmother introduced me to him as Uncle Bob - Uncle Bob Sikes. And shoot, I didn't realize the guy wasn't my uncle until I was 25 years old. That's the type of congressman he was. He was everybody's uncle and if you had a problem you went to your uncle and he would help. And that was my first taste of politics and, hey, that's what a congressman's supposed to do. He's supposed to be someone that everyone can go to with whatever problem they have and at least be able to address that problem and if possible get the help of the Congress.
Kathleen Wells: Now when did the district turn to voting Republican?
Jim Bryan: Well, when I was a kid, my grandmother... (You don't mind if I use some of these examples but these are part of my life.) I was in a pea patch, pulling peas with my grandmother, and a guy came by campaigning and he was passing out quarts of moonshine to my uncle who was disabled. He was sitting under a shade tree and he gave him a quart of moonshine. And I said, "Granny, what's that fellow doing?" And she says, "Well, he's a politicking." I said, "Well, Granny what's that?" And I think I was something like eight or nine years old and she says, "Well, Son, all you need to know is Roosevelt helped this family and we're Democrats. Democrats are for the poor; Republicans are for the rich."
Now, that was over 50 years ago when she said that. And I said, "Well, I'm a Democrat." So when I became of voting age, I went ahead and registered as a Democrat and the rest is history.
Kathleen Wells: But when... How long has the district been...
Jim Bryan: Oh, the district. I'm sorry. Well, this district turned probably around '74. Bob Sikes got out of Congress in 1974, I believe. He had served 34 years representing this district. And that's all everybody knew, and this whole area was Democrat. So the only Republican that would come through here would be somebody selling shoes, or a traveling salesman.
And then, Colonel Bud Day came into the area in '74 and he started pushing for a Republican party, and it caught on and it turned Republican from '74 on.
Kathleen Wells: Reveal something to me about the whole process -- the process of running a campaign.
Jim Bryan: Well, I ran last election, and with me it's a little different because I'm running to serve my country. I'm not running for any other reason and I decided when I came home and saw the lack of jobs, how poor the district was in a lot of the parts of the six counties, and the only thing we had was, of course, the tourist industry on the coast. We had the military, but we lost all of our manufacturing.
And so I decided then to go ahead and run when I came back here because I had worked in manufacturing out West and I was pretty successful in bringing manufacturing in out there.
So I said when I retired and came back home, and I saw what we had, it was a lot of the same problems we had when I was growing up. And I said, well, we've got to have manufacturing come back. We've lost a lot of textile. We've lost a lot of plants and companies. We can't just depend on tourists because look what happened with the oil spill. We can't just depend on the military because what happens if bases move and close down?
So I said I need to get in and do what I did in Arizona, when I lived out there and helped develop and push the manufacturing, so I decided to run.
Nobody knew me, even though I was from here. I got local party support, but no national support, no Florida state party support. I ran my last election on two credit cards and donations of gas from individuals. I was running against a congressman named Jeff Miller, a friend of [Congressman] Joe Wilson, and also best friends with Karl Rove. That's who Mr. Jeff Miller is. So I said, wow, I'm up against pretty tough odds, but I'm going to run.
So I ran last time and I think I raised a little over $10,000 - and, that's paying for my qualifying fee. So I only had a few thousand to run on. But on that few thousand dollars, I had 100,000 votes, 30 percent against Mr. Miller who's a millionaire who received the rest - 70 percent and with $300,000 to go against me. I said, wow, okay, people are paying attention.
So it here comes for the second time. Well, you know I sat with the chair of the Democratic party, Howard Dean. It was at Harbor Docks Restaurant, the last election. I said, "Mr. Dean," of course everybody was mad the way Florida was going with the elections process and nobody was sitting with Mr. Dean, so I went over and sat with him. And I said, "Mr. Dean, if I make it through the primary, is the Democratic Party going to help me?" He said "Well, sure, if you make it through the primary."
So I made it through the primary, but the Democratic Party has written this area off since 1974, pretty much and they don't fund any candidates up in this area. And, of course, I made it through the primary, no help, and I went ahead and ran my race and, of course, I did get 30 percent -- 100,000 votes.
Well this time, everybody kept saying, "Hey, we're looking for somebody to vote for." I said, "Okay, let me see what's going to happen. I'm going to run as a write-in." So I decided to run as a write-in.
So I went as a write-in and actually I'm picking up momentum. I've raised a little over $4,000 and it's kept me in the race. It's kept gas in the tank, it's kept my little cards out and Mr. Miller still has about $300,000. In fact, I think he gave $270,000 back or to the Republican Party because he felt he didn't need it here to run against me, so he went ahead and gave it back to the GOP.
That's where we stand. Last night [October 21], I was in an event with Alex Sink who is running for governor here. I support Alex Sink and a lot of people came up to me and said, "Hey, Jim, I've already wrote you in. I've done my early voting and I've already put you in." And there were probably 300 people at that meeting. Several people came up and said, "Jim, we've already written you in." So, believe it or not, early voting is going on, and I'm actually getting some action. Murkowski in Alaska is a write-in and she's tied neck-and-neck right now with her opponent. So this could be the year.
Kathleen Wells: And you mentioned that this is the second time that you're running. I know the first time you received the endorsement of General Wesley Clark. You don't have his endorsement this time. Tell me why.
Jim Bryan: Last election, I had a little help from the unions, because I was a registered Democrat on the ballot. Well, I'm still a registered Democrat it's just that I'm a write-in candidate.
I went before the union board, and they wouldn't even discuss me because I'm a write-in. I haven't been able to get any endorsements from anywhere because I'm a write-in, plus it's been awfully hard to get through to General Clark. If I had his attention, he'd give me an endorsement this election. He did the last election. I know General Clark. I also know General David Petraeus. Of course, he's active duty. He's not going to do that. But hey, I'm plugging away.
Kathleen Wells: And what makes you different from any other politician?
Jim Bryan: Well, I'm just me. I've served my country before and now I'm stepping up to serve my country again. It has nothing to do with politics with me. It has to do with what's right, what's right for this country, how I can serve with my education. I do have a good education. I do have a good background, and I feel I can add to this area, especially in manufacturing as well as the issues in Congress that we're facing.
Kathleen Wells: As a Vietnam veteran, and as someone who has made a career out of serving in the Army with three tours and just shy of 20 years, give me your thoughts about the 60 Minutes piece which ran last week about homeless veterans?
Jim Bryan: Well, here we have a stand-down. In fact, it's going on today [October 22] as we speak. Once a year, we have a stand-down in the church in Fort Walton Beach. It's put on by Judge Maney.
Judge Maney is an Afghanistan veteran who was wounded with an IED when his vehicle was blown up. He spent something like six months in Walter Reed before he could get back, and he's now back on the bench. And Judge Maney holds these stand-downs once a year. He actually holds court. He has a dentist that comes in, a doctor with nurses come in and do blood pressure checks and screen for any problem. We feed everybody a very good meal. We give clothes where they need clothes and any assistance that a veteran may need. And a VA representative is there as well to do any VA paperwork that may help that veteran. And a legal group of lawyers is also at the stand-down. So I'm very proud of our community by putting in the stand-down once a year.
I'm with the local chapter of the Purple Heart and we support that as well each year and we try to identify homeless veterans.
Kathleen Wells: But what does it say about our country that we have so many individuals, men and women, that have served in wars, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and they are homeless? What does that say to you?
Jim Bryan: What it says is there's a very big need and you also have to look at the high rate of suicide that's predominant right now in the military. It's a lot higher than it has ever been. Multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq for these young men and women and when they come home, what they are faced with is a community that has left them. They have left that community, their friends, the people they... Kids they went to school with, they went on to other careers.
And I had the same problem when I came back from Vietnam. A lot of the guys that stayed out of the Vietnam conflict, in fact, back then they would join the Guard to get out of Vietnam. These people were deputy sheriffs, they were working for the county and the state and then I come in and I'm an outsider.
And that's what happens with a lot of our veterans. We come back from these conflicts, and these conflicts change your whole mental makeup. You view things a lot different than the average person does that has kept their butt at home and not been involved with what you've just were involved with. And then you have dumb butts like Geraldo Rivera making the comment he made, like "Oh, veterans should just get over it."
Well, these veterans -- these things stick with them for the rest of their lives. The things that they've seen, are so great and traumatic events in their lives that they view them just as if it'd happened yesterday even though 30 or more years may have passed. And this is something that the average public just doesn't have a clue about.
Kathleen Wells: In Vietnam, you won three Purple Hearts. Speak to the significance, what that means to you -- winning those Purple Hearts.
Jim Bryan: Well, with my first Purple Heart as an American Indian, I came back from Vietnam and the Indian nations gave me the responsibility and the honor of becoming a warrior. And with that, a warrior has a very grave responsibility and that's: protect the old, protect the young, protect the village. And of course, my grandmother told me, "Your village is the United States of America." So that's a big responsibility in the Indian culture but a lot of people don't quite have that to fall back on when they come back.
When I came back the first time, I had close to 30 decorations; I had no idea what they were. I didn't know. I was a young kid that was sent to Germany and I had three rows of ribbons and the Colonel had one row of ribbons. And I didn't understand what they were. Somebody put my ribbons together for me. I didn't understand until years later the significance of those Purple Hearts -- what they meant and what they meant in my military career. And that happens with a lot of people coming back. They don't think about medals. Medals were something that may come later, you don't know.
In fact, my second Purple Heart was awarded in 2002 when General Petraeus was a two-star general at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. So that was one that came later. But you know, when you're in, you don't think about those things until the company commander or the battle commander or your commander says, "Okay, top, you better start wearing your stuff." And they would have to tell me to wear my decorations because I didn't do it throughout my career but my record did follow me.
Kathleen Wells: Speak to me or give us your thoughts on the significance and relevance of the media and money. Those two elements -- media and money - and, how they play in the success or failure of a candidate running for office.
Jim Bryan: Well, here's something that happened last election in this district. Mr. Miller, in the month of July during the election cycle, was in the paper 26 times of out 30 days. "Congressman Miller saves neighbor's cat from tree." I mean anything to get his face in the press. These newspapers here were bought up years ago, the beginning of Bush administration, by Gannett News. Some 12 newspapers are owned by Freedom Press and Freedom Press leans to one side.
So when somebody like myself comes in, they don't write anything. They won't put anything in the paper unless I buy space. And it gives a lopsided view of who's running for what, especially if you're a Democrat. The other thing, the money, my goodness, Mr. Miller has received all kinds of corporate money at 10,000 a pop when I'm out receiving a five buck donation from a lady on Social Security that says, "Go get 'em, Jim!" There's no competition. There's no way we can compete with the massive amounts of money that are corporate from insurance company, from the drug industry and especially with this new Supreme Court ruling that says corporations can be treated as individuals.
In fact, in this cycle what's going in these races where people have no idea where the money is coming from but all of a sudden it pops up a hundred, 200 thousand dollars at pop to push against some candidate that's been raising 5, 10, 20 dollars from individuals?
Kathleen Wells: Now, in your particular race, how many candidates are running?
Jim Bryan: There are four in the race: Mr. Miller, the incumbent; Mr. Krauss a Republican, no party affiliate running; Mr. Cantrell, a Republican, no party affiliate, running; and myself, a write-in Democrat.
Kathleen Wells: And what do you think your chances are?
Jim Bryan: Well, I actually think I have a pretty good chance here. But, you know, yesterday [October 21] I met with a group of the tea Party in Pensacola and they had banners up saying, "Oh, we want to do this and do that. And, what about the Indians? You know, how did the government treat the Indians?" And I went up to a guy with a banner and I say, "Hey, I'm an Indian". And I say, "I'm running for congress here". And he says, "Well, were only going to vote Republican". I say, "Hold it, I thought you guys were tea party". He says, "Yeah, we're tea party, but we support Congressman Miller".
And I say now, I'm looking at 30 people out here with signs and I went up and asked each one of them. Every single one was a Republican that was supporting Congressman Miller. And I said, "I thought you guys were tea party". He says, "Yeah, we're independent, but we only vote Republican".
Kathleen Wells: So what does that mean? What does that say to you?
Jim Bryan: Well, what it means is: the tea party originally was funded and is funded by the Koch brothers as well as others. Dick Army and Freedom Works have promoted the tea party and they're just another branch of the Republican Party. I've been to four of their meetings and they'll be 3 or 400 people at the meeting and I'm the only Democrat in the entire auditorium. I go around and ask questions, I say, "Oh, what are you guys doing?" "Oh, we're independent, we're independent. Down with Obama". I say, "Oh, okay". They say, "Up with Rubio". I say, "I thought you didn't endorse any candidate." They say, "Well, we're just supporting Rubio". I say, "I thought you guys were independent". They're not independent they are strictly another brand of the Republican Party.
I've been to four or five of their meetings and that's all I see every time I go. A few people there will say, "Jim, I support you", but it's a very few and it's usually military retirees.
Kathleen Wells: Well, Mr. Bryan I wish you all the best. I hope you have a successful campaign. Is there anything else you'd like to address?
Jim Bryan: Well, more people like us need to stand up, but how can we stand up, when we don't have the money? Is this supposed to be a rich man's game? Is it supposed to be a lawyer's game? Mr. Smith went to Washington, what happened to that? Let's let Mr. Bryan go to Washington. Let's let other people go to Washington that want to step up and serve our nation and not serve a party.
And I see a lot of people serving parties, but I see few people serving America -- what our country is founded upon. My goodness, we do have to have a change in this country. But the change is: congress has to work together to move us forward and there's no way we can sustain the congress we have today. One group, hell bent on saying, "No", no matter what. And then, of course, another group trying to accomplish some things. We have to be accomplishing things together as a united... In the old days, you did have some consensus where they crossed party lines for the benefit of the nation. And that is what the voters are upset about. They're upset at both parties because we can't move this country forward with a broken congress.
Kathleen Wells: I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me and I wish you all the best of luck and success in your campaign.
Jim Bryan: I wish you all the best as well, and if anybody is interested in my book, let them read it. Pass it on. You're free to do anything you want with it.
Kathleen Wells: Sounds good to me. Okay, thank you very much, Mr. Bryan. Good luck, okay?
Jim Bryan: Okay, Kathleen, and best of luck to you.
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