ORLANDO – It’s official. Former Congressman Alan Grayson is back in the race.
“I’m in. I’m running for Congress,” Grayson wrote today in an email sent to supporters and the media. Grayson said he was getting back into the race for Congress to defend the rights of families losing health coverage because of cutbacks in health care funding at the state and federal level, and he cited the case of a friend who recently died of hepatitis because “the Veterans Administration wasn’t covering his hospital bills.”
Grayson, an Orlando attorney, was elected to Congress in 2008, when he defeated Republican Ric Keller with 52 percent. He was the first Democrat to represent the 8th Congressional District – which now covers parts of Orlando and Orange, Osceola, Lake and Marion counties – since 1978.
During a sometimes controversial term, Grayson drew the cheers of liberals and angry criticism from conservatives when he accused Republicans of wanting sick Americans to die so they wouldn’t need health coverage. In a speech on the House floor in September 2009, Grayson said, “The Republicans have a back up plan in case you do get sick … This is what the Republicans want you to do. If you get sick America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly!”
Grayson was defeated in the 2010 Republican landslide. Former state Sen. Daniel Webster, an Orlando Republican, carried the district with 56 percent to Grayson’s 38 percent. Peg Dunmire, the nominee of the Florida Tea Party, got the remaining 6 percent.
In his email, Grayson said he’d decided to make another bid for the district because of his concern over how proposed cuts to federal health care programs will impact Americans who rely solely on that coverage. During his term, Grayson was a strong supporter of President Obama’s push for a national health care law.
“I’m running because I promised Charlaina and Rick that I would,” he wrote. “Charlaina called me a few weeks ago, from the hospital. She told me that her husband, Rick, was suffering from multiple organ failure – lungs, kidneys and liver. Rick was 56 years old. That’s three years older than me.
“Rick was a veteran,” Grayson added, and noted that he could not get the coverage he needed from the Veterans Administration.
“Rick had had a bad liver since he was 30, when he contracted hepatitis. No insurance company would go near him,” Grayson wrote. “Every day Rick survived, his family owed several thousand dollars more to hospitals and doctors. And they had no way to pay it. I told Charlaina how sorry I was. And I told her that I wasn’t in Congress anymore, so I wasn’t sure how I could help. She said ‘You can run again. You are the only person who ever cared about people like us. Rick wants people in Congress who can’t be bought and sold. Rick wants you to run again.’ “
That plea changed his mind, Grayson wrote.
“A dying man wants me to run for Congress. What exactly could I say?” he wrote. “I promised that I would run. Rick died on June 30, 2011, at 5:55 p.m. I’m keeping my promise. I’m in.”
It’s not clear yet what kind of district Grayson will be running in. In 2010, Florida voters approved a ballot referendum that requires the Florida Legislature to create congressional districts that focus on uniting areas of common geographic interests, and not allow party registration to be the central factor in redistricting. Typically, whichever party controls the governor’s office and the Legislature – as Republicans do now – create districts that pile as many registered voters of their party into a single district as possible. Any effort to do that again next year could run afoul of the ballot measure approved by 62 percent of Sunshine State voters, and could result in court challenges.
There has been speculation that lawmakers might be tempted to create a single, heavily Democratic district centered around Orlando. The benefit for the GOP is that it would remove Democratic voters from the districts of neighboring Republican congressmen, including Webster, Rep. John Mica, and Rep. Bill Posey, making their districts safer to run in.
If that happens, there’s speculation that former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings and state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, might also seek the Democratic nomination in that district. Siplin is being forced by term limits to retire from the Florida Senate next year.
Right now, the only Democrat representing part of this region now is Congresswoman Corrine Brown, whose district stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando.
Grayson pledged that health care would be his top issue on the campaign trail next year, and his highest priority if he gets re-elected.
“For the four million people in Florida who can’t see a doctor when they are sick, and the fifty million nationwide, I’m in,” he said. “For the 70 percent of all homeowners in Orlando who owe more than they own on their home, and the 25 percent nationwide who are ‘underwater’ and feel like they are drowning, I’m in. For the six million Americans who haven’t worked in six months and are seeing their benefits running out, for the eight million more who are unemployed, and for the eight million on top of that who can find only part-time work, I’m in. For the millions of parents who have absolutely no idea how to pay for a college education for their children, I’m in.
“And for everyone who is appalled by the prospect that we may cut Social Security and Medicare benefits as we spend more than $150 billion a year on three unnecessary wars and almost $100 billion a year on the Bush tax cuts for the rich, I’m in,” he added.
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