WINDERMERE – Looking back on his two years in Washington, Congressman Alan Grayson sees a lot that Democrats should be proud of – starting with the health care reform law that became such a controversial topic in this year’s election season.
“Many members of Congress said that was the most important bill they had ever voted on, and some of them had been in office for 40 years,” Grayson said, adding that he believes millions of Americans, today unsure of how they’ll pay medical bills if their health deteriorates, will soon get the coverage and peace of mind they deserve.
Grayson, a Democrat representing Florida’s 8th Congressional District, also predicted the law would face a fierce battle in the next two years, as the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives takes solid aim at dismantling it.
“I think the president will veto any effort on their part to do that, although I think they will under fund it,” he predicted.
Grayson won’t be in Congress to take part in that battle. In an election year that saw voters turn sharply away from Democrats and give Republicans 63 new seats in Congress, his party did particularly poorly in the South. In Florida, which voted for Barrack Obama for president in 2008, the pendulum swung heavily to the other side, and Republicans picked up four congressional districts — including the 8th District. Grayson lost his re-election bid to former Republican state Sen. Dan Webster, 56 percent to 38 percent.
In an exclusive interview with FreelineMedia in the days following his defeat, Grayson said he’s still proud of the campaign he ran, particularly his successful efforts to raise campaign contributions online while bypassing large contributors with agendas to pursue – grassroots campaigning versus the older model of letting the most influential special interests guide the way, he said.
“We completely shattered the traditional model of how you finance a campaign, which is you suck up to lobbyists and rich people who want to know what you can do for them,” he said.
Grayson blames his party’s heavy losses on their failure to energize and motivate their base – the progressives who helped elect them in 2008, when voters in the 8th Congressional District not only ousted a veteran Republican congressman, Ric Keller, in favor of Grayson, but also voted for Obama.
“Democratic participation fell off the cliff this year, not only in my district but across the country – everywhere except New England and the West Coast,” Grayson said. “In dozens upon dozens of districts around the country, Democrats lost because Democrats didn’t vote. There was a voter strike for the Democrats. Certainly my own theory is we didn’t deliver enough for Democratic constituency groups.”
He also blames part of the problem on Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who used filibusters to block all but the most routine legislation – a tactic he described as obstructionist.
“The entire White House agenda crashed on the shores of Republican stubbornness in the Senate,” Grayson said.
Still, Grayson disagrees with those who say Americans punished the Democrats for not doing enough to revive the ailing economy, and for pushing a separate agenda – health care – that Americans were not united around.
In September 2009, Grayson himself created a firestorm during the health care debate when he took to the House floor and warned Americans that the Republicans’ alternate health care plan was they “want you to die quickly,” while posting a sign that read “The Republican Health Care Plan: Die Quickly.”
Republicans in the House and conservative commentators roared with indignation, but Grayson said his speech may actually have helped lead to passage of the bill.
“Nationally, I think my speech on health care turned out to be a turning point in the health care debate,” he said. “That gave our side the courage of our convictions where we were actually able to give health care to all Americans. The speech was something that really had an impact.”
Grayson also defends his record, saying he worked hard for the voters in his district, which covers Orlando and parts of Orange, Osceola, Lake and Marion counties.
“Locally, we got $200 million to keep schools open,” he said. “We pushed a mandatory home mediation program to keep people in their homes. We doubled the amount of federal grant money coming into the district from $100 million to $200 million in my first year. We gave personal responses to over 100,000 emails in the district and we maintained four district offices. I think that we gave people an idea locally of what it would mean to have a congressman working hard and getting things done.”
He defended the federal stimulus bill, saying it helped avoid a complete economic crash.
“The wheels were coming off the economy,” he said. “We did what we had to do. I am happy that we avoided a second Great Depression.”
Looking ahead, Grayson said he’s not sure what his plans are, but he does know this: he will stay active in politics, if for no other reason than the passion he feels for the progressive causes he championed in Washington.
“I haven’t changed,” he said. “I’m really proud of the things we were able to accomplish. I met my standards.”
In the meantime, Grayson said he will put his focus on his family.
“I’m the only member of Congress with five children in school,” he said. “This gives me an opportunity to be a better husband and father. I liked life before, I liked life during, and I’ll like life after Congress. I like life.”