Grayson Returns Emboldened
“They got rid of me for two years, but now I’m back,” Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson said with a wide grin. To clarify, the Alan Grayson — the insult-dishing, left-wing lightning rod, cable TV mainstay — is back.
Grayson lost re-election in the GOP wave of 2010, in a district no Democrat had won for 34 years before him. In 2012, Grayson was elected in a different district — one drawn to safely elect a Democrat. He won by 25 points, making him no longer an enticing target for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Grayson said the House historian informed him the victory, a 43-point swing from his 2010 loss, was the biggest comeback in history of the House.
His lesson from the experience is to press on, full steam ahead. In an interview in his office in the Cannon Building, he ticked off accomplishments from his first term including passage of a major bipartisan bill to audit the Federal Reserve.
“There’s every reason to think that, if people want to see results, that we should continue,” he concluded.
And so he does, taking a nasty shot at the GOP a few minutes later.
Asked whether Democrats, who fiercely protested George W. Bush’s aggressive use of executive power to fight terrorism, should be protesting President Barack Obama’s similar policies, Grayson quickly pivots to an attack on Republicans.
“They love the taste of blood,” Grayson said. “They’re consistently pro-war, consistently pro-killing foreigners. They view the entire world as either a massive inconvenience or something they feel is a personal threat. One or the other. They don’t recognize the world as full of human beings.”
According to Grayson, he’s just saying what other Democrats think but don’t say out loud.
“I’m just honest! OK?” he said, later adding, “Honestly, I get all sorts of atta boys from people because I have the chance to appear on TV frequently, and they don’t, and I say the things that everyone else is thinking here but nobody else has the chance to say.”
Grayson compares himself to Huey Long, the Great Depression-era Louisiana governor who proposed aggressive wealth redistribution policies, challenged President Franklin D. Roosevelt from the left and was assassinated in 1933.
“You know, the change campaign that the president ran four years ago was in essence the same campaign that Huey Long ran time after time after time. The difference is that things actually did change when Huey Long was elected. They got free roads, free bridges, free school books. The beginning of having free health care. A magnificent state university system, the best in the country at the time.
“He illustrated to people in concrete ways that they could organize themselves in a way that was better for the lives of ordinary people. And I find that to be pretty close to what I’m trying to do in general,” Grayson said.
In Long’s era, though, there was no Internet. Grayson is a prolific fundraiser online and an innovator. One of his top aides in his first stint in Congress, Matt Stoller, was a hero of the liberal blogosphere.
Grayson said he and his staff had just been discussing whether any Republicans are using the same means for, he is careful to point out, far different ends.
“There are only five members who raise more money from small contributions than from large contributions. And we have the highest ratio of anybody on either side of the aisle. But the fact is that [Minnesota Rep. Michele] Bachmann raised a lot of money from small contributions. So clearly there’s some effort on her side to, you know, mobilize large numbers of people to be involved in that sense.
“I think Sarah Palin, actually, did a pretty good job with new media. Much less so lately. She seems to have lost her touch. But she had a very large following on YouTube, on Twitter and so on,” he added.
Grayson’s power in Congress stems from millions of supporters online. But for someone of his profile, he’s engaged in some fights that are pretty inside-the-Beltway territory.
At the Congressional Progressive Caucus retreat Jan. 24-25, Grayson delivered an unscheduled speech unveiling a new strategy of his to force Republicans to take politically treacherous votes in committee markups.
“We have to get the Republicans to make some hard votes. It’s hard to do that on the House floor. It’s easier to do that in committee,” he said.
And Grayson’s congressional homecoming was slightly marred by a dustup over his seniority on the House Science Committee.
The Democratic Steering Committee decided to put freshman Rep. Eric Swalwell of California ahead of Grayson because Swalwell had been appointed to the science panel two weeks before Grayson was.
“I’m not going to pretend I was happy about it. I wasn’t happy about it. But the rules are the rules,” Grayson said.
On the positive side of the ledger, the Florida and Georgia Democratic delegations elected Grayson their regional whip.
“They’re happy to have me back. That’s why I’m regional whip,” Grayson said about Democratic leadership.