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Fiery former Rep. Alan Grayson is back on the political stage

By Ben AdlerAlan Grayson was Elizabeth Warren before Warren was.
Rep. Alan Grayson, left, D-Fla., greets supporters after a town hall meeting on health care in Tavares, Fla., Monday, Oct. 12, 2009.
Rep. Alan Grayson, left, D-Fla., greets supporters after a town hall meeting on health care in Tavares, Fla., Monday, Oct. 12, 2009.

By Ben Adler

Alan Grayson was Elizabeth Warren before Warren was. During his one term in Congress, the Florida Democrat spoke assertively about economic equality and sensible financial regulation. Republicans complained that their feelings were hurt when he said that their health care plan was, "die quickly." He was elected in a Republican-leaning district in the Democratic wave of 2008, and he was turned out in the Republican wave of 2010. Now, after redistricting, he is running for a seat that gave President Obama 60 percent of its vote in 2008.

I caught up with Grayson just outside the Democratic National Convention. Grayson isn't here to speak; he's just "hanging out," he said. But he is feeling ebullient and he still doesn't pull his punches. He said he feels good about his chances, noting that even in 2010, Democratic congressional candidates won in 136 of the 137 districts that Obama carried with 60 percent or more of its vote.

Although Grayson is pleased with what he has seen at the DNC seen so far, he thinks the party needs to lay out more progressive policy specifics in the speeches to come. "To close the deal, we need to explain what we hope to accomplish in the next four years," he said. He contrasted the Democrats' plan with Romney's campaign platform, saying, "Republicans have no answer to anything. They believe in the freedom to sleep under a bridge and to die without health care." 

"It's clear what Romney wants: To undo a law that would provide health care to more than 30 million Americans, and a zero percent tax on Mitt Romney," said Grayson. Romney would repeal the Affordable Care Act, and his running mate Paul Ryan's budget would eliminate taxes on capital gains, through which Romney makes virtually all of his massive income. 

Grayson's desired Democratic platform would include more tax reforms than just President Obama's proposal to let the Bush tax cuts on families making more than $250,000 per year expire. 

"We need more progressive taxation," says Grayson. "The super-rich like Romney are not paying enough, because of loopholes like the preferential treatment of capital gains, not just the Bush income tax cuts. That's our only hope for deficit reduction."

Grayson also noted that more than 70 percent of homes in his district have larger mortgages than their assessed value. "It would be good if the president explained what he'd do to revive the housing market, since that's vital in Nevada, Florida, Michigan—places where he has to win." Grayson would also like to see a plan to lower the cost of private health insurance, and an agenda to address the influence of money in politics. 

Asked whether the huge sums of outside spending from billionaires favoring the Republicans could swing the election their way, Grayson said, "It's possible. We haven't run that experiment, and we need to be afraid of the outcome. It's a fine line between democracy and plutocracy and we may be about to cross it."