Grayson boasted of the amendments he’s been able to tack onto bills. On the day Grayson sat with a reporter, he popped in and out of the chamber to push an amendment that would bar the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security from contracting with corporations that have been convicted of fraud or violations of law while obtaining public contracts. “We did it!” Grayson, pumping a fist in the air, yelled to an aide.
Is there a sinister angle to it all? During a private meeting with liberals in February, Grayson outlined a plan called “Operation Bust Their Chops,” in which Democrats, now in the minority, would use the amendment process to force Republicans into voting against things that may be popular back home — funding for schools, for example.
Grayson’s national breakout came amid the 2009 health care debate when he went to the floor to take on Republican opposition. Liberals nationally rallied around him, seeing him as the rare Democrat willing to fight back, which he did with abandon. To a national audience on CNN he slashed the GOP as “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.”
“I reached a certain point where I was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, to use a term from the movie Network,” Grayson recalled in an interview.
But if he wagered that the public liked a guy who spoke his mind, he was wrong. Republicans made Grayson their No. 1 target in 2010 and he was defeated by Daniel Webster, a respected former state legislator from Winter Garden. Millions in outside spending (“sewer money,” Grayson calls it) from conservative groups combatted the millions Grayson raised from a national email list of 400,000 people. His career in politics would likely be over but the once-a-decade reapportionment created two new congressional districts in Florida and Grayson stepped into District 9.
Friends and aides say Grayson is grateful for the second chance and is more relaxed than his first term. It would be unwise to suggest his old self won’t emerge, but he has at least learned the limits of being always on.
“I haven’t had a near-death experience,” Grayson said. “I’ve had a death experience.”