By Thomas Conboy
Thomas Conboy is a Professional Engineer and small businessman who actively works to improve his community. As the founding Vice President of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, Mr Conboy arranged to have Alan Grayson kick off the first caucus meeting to an overflowing room at the Democratic State convention. Tom has been the Co-Chair of Democracy for America Palm Beach County and his local Neighborhood Association President for over 17 years.
Insider fighting and a specious smear campaign kept Florida Democratic ‘firebrand’ Alan Grayson out of Congress for years. Now he may be aiming for Marco Rubio’s seat
In Congress, they say some politicians are “show horses,” best suited for scoring points with splashy hearings and stirring rhetoric, while others are the “work horses,” who actually get the hard job of legislating done. Florida’s Alan Grayson never had any trouble making headlines, but before a messy combination of insider spats and now-debunked scandals shut him out, he did a lot of heavy lifting for Democrats in Congress. The party is in desperate need of the notoriously busy former boy genius’ work ethic today, as the country recovers from Trumpism but continues to struggle with issues like growing inequality, an inadequate healthcare system laid bare during the disastrous pandemic, and the possibility of looming economic disruption that could make the housing crash of 2009 seem like a minor inconvenience. Alan Grayson is just the Clydesdale we’re looking for.
During his seven years in Congress, Grayson was known as a tough progressive and a whirlwind of action, heavily engaged in both domestic and foreign policy. Well ahead of his time, he eschewed big corporate money and quickly became the largest small-dollar fundraiser in the House of Representatives. The Bronx-born legislator, who was admitted to Harvard at 16 and then put himself through Harvard Law School working nights as a janitor and night watchman, wasted no time once elected. Grayson passed a staggering 121 laws and amendments in a Republican-controlled Congress. But the seemingly tireless politician also quickly garnered attention as a progressive “firebrand,” with a series of blistering hearing performances, including a widely appreciated grilling of Fed Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke over the mortgage crisis. Grayson’s powerful floor speeches . An early proponent of major healthcare reform, Grayson gained both supporters and detractors with his fiery “die quickly” characterization of the Republican healthcare “plan,” a message that became an enduring internet “meme” still seen today,
and he remains a fierce advocate for Medicare For All.
Again ahead of the times, Grayson has often merged legislative work with activism. Not one to ask for forgiveness, much less permission, Grayson’s activism didn’t always sit comfortably in establishment circles. He successfully waged a popular campaign against pre-emptive bombing in Syria. A specialist in elder issues who wrote his master’s thesis in gerontology and has made adding “eyes, ears and teeth” to Social Security a signature issue, Grayson was instrumental in stopping proposed Social Security cuts by collecting 4 million signatures in opposition. Mostly through sheer persistence, Grayson was also among those credited for stopping the perennially unpopular Trans-Pacific Partnership dead in its tracks at a time when it seemed inevitable.
Some of Grayson’s activism didn’t always meet with the full-throated approval of the Democratic Party; nor did his casting of his Superdelegate vote for Bernie Sanders in 2016. But his positions were popular with voters, and he provided political cover for other lawmakers to follow, ultimately helping avoid all-out war with Syria and saving Social Security from the oft-criticized “chained CPI” scheme to lower benefits. Social Security can be expected to be a focus of Grayson’s possible run against Marco Rubio, who reputedly wants to raise the age of eligibility and cut benefits.
The scandals that weren’t there
In 2016, Grayson was involved in contentious divorce proceedings, which ultimately concluded with Grayson getting full custody of the couple’s five children and an annulment based on his then-wife Lolita’s apparent failure to obtain a divorce in her first marriage. When her bigamy came to light, Lolita accused Grayson of domestic abuse, seemingly to get leverage for a settlement. Her problem was that video of the incident she complained about showed Lolita hitting Grayson – twice – and him backing away. She also told the police that she hit him, not vice versa. Lolita withdrew the accusation less than 48 hours later, and her lawyer sent Grayson a written apology from her. The judge nevertheless “threw the book” at Lolita, assessing $200,000 of sanctions against her for lying.
Later, in the midst of one of Grayson’s campaigns, new demands from his wife were accompanied by a flurry of reporting on calls Lolita had made long ago to authorities claiming
domestic abuse. But the authorities had treated those allegations the same way: No charges were ever filed, the authorities gave the allegations so little credence that they didn’t even ask Grayson about them, and the facts contradicted the claims.
Other contradicting evidence arose, such as a photo of Lolita’s bite marks on an arm of one of the children, a video showing Lolita throwing knives at one of the children, Lolita filing false police reports against the children, and the testimony of the couple’s children, who ran away from Lolita, chose to stay with Grayson and said he had never been abusive. A contemporary article in Politico quoted Grayson’s daughter Skye as pinpointing the troubles in the home on her mother:
“My mother has always struggled with emotional issues,” said Skye Grayson, who noted that several of the older children chose to live with their dad. “She physically lashed out at me, my siblings and our father, and then blamed us for it, victimizing us. This resulted in a considerably troubled childhood home.”
Grayson’s political opponents predictably used the divorce as an opportunity to attack, but things got verystrange from there. At one point, suspecting political rivals might be involving themselves in the dispute by paying his wife’s legal fees, Grayson’s counsel filed a discovery motion seeking information on who was paying his wife’s new legal team. Just as the response was due, Lolita Grayson’s attorney was found dead in his office from a self-administered gunshot wound. The question of who was paying the legal bills went unanswered.
In 2016, Grayson faced opposition from both and outside the Democratic Party when he challenged former Republican Patrick Murphy whose father had contributed huge sums to the Senate Democrats and who also had the blessing of most establishment Democrats in the Senate primary. Murphy, a conservative Democrat who had edged out Allen West by 0.8 percent for a Congressional seat in Florida’s mostly red 18th District, went on to win the primary but lose the Senate race to Marco Rubio, running seven points behind Hillary Clinton.
During the Grayson-Murphy race, a, the Chairperson of a DEC in Murphy’s House district filed an ethics complaint against Grayson. Her specific allegations were baseless and dismissed, but party operatives exploited the complaint to set a fishing expedition investigation in motion. Filing a specious ethical complaint against a political opponent is a time-honored dirty trick in political campaigns. While the filing will be dutifully reported, if and when the matter is resolved in the accused’s favor, the election already is over and the public has moved on. That’s what happened in Grayson’s case. In 2016, Grayson’s detractors in both parties swarmed over what was breathlessly referred to as his “Cayman Islands Hedge Fund,” heavily implying the tax shenanigans often associated with offshore accounts.
There was in fact never a tax issue of any kind. As Grayson’s House financial disclosures demonstrated, not a penny ever went to the Cayman Islands. Grayson did in fact create a “family and friends” investment fund while out of office, but 98 percent of it was his money—and the other 2% was held by two long-time friends. The resulting report suggested Grayson’s investment in a portfolio with 1,000 publicly traded companies “may” have included up to three that had some form of business before the government through subsidiaries—which Grayson didn’t know, and which isn’t illegal. For instance, Grayson was one of more than 10,000 shareholders in a public company that had a subsidiary that leased space to the Post Office—six years before Grayson was elected. No connection between any company in which Grayson invested and his work in Congress was ever even raised.
Even though his family fund had never solicited clients, it was suggested that Grayson remove his name from the fund once he returned to office, and he did so. Yet the fact that there was never any finding of financial wrongdoing somehow escaped the press reports. The House Ethics Committee decided that the charges were so flimsy that it did not even take the routine step of appointing a subcommittee appointed to pursue the matter, and then shortly after the Grayson-Murphy primary was over, the Committee dropped it entirely.
Contrast this with the COVID-related stock sales of Sens. Kelly Loeffler, Inhofe, and Burr, who sold millions in stocks likely to be impacted by the pandemic just days after the Senate held a classified briefing on the seriousness of coronavirus, none of whom suffered serious repercussions. In this light, the media furor over Grayson’s utterly legal family investment fund is revealed as the politically motivated non-issue that it was.
Getting Down with TPP
Of all the ways Alan Grayson blocked bad moves on both sides of the aisle, the secret draft of the Trans Pacific Partnership stands out. Grayson called the TPP “an attack on “the middle class of America,” and added, “but I’m not allowed to tell you why.” Members of Congress were allowed to view the deal only in a special secure room, but they weren’t allowed to take notes on it—or even discuss it between themselves.
Alan Grayson went above and beyond the call of duty on the TPP when no one else was willing. Regarding the awfulness of the secret deal, Grayson told the Huffington Post, “What I saw was nothing that could possibly justify the secrecy that surrounds it. It is ironic in a way that the government thinks it’s all right to have a record of every single call that an American makes, but not all right for an American citizen to know what sovereign powers the government is negotiating away.”
It’s hard to remember the last time Member of Congress went to the mat for us like that.
The deal at the crossroads
Grayson tells a story that early in his Congressional career, in the midst of his friction with (at times) both political parties, Dan Rather took an interest and asked for an interview. Grayson granted the interview, and connected with the legendary newsman. As things wrapped up, he and Rather commiserated about the pressure of being a new Member of Congress, and the way that the Establishment pressured him to raise money from lobbyists for his reelection campaign, and do nothing else.
The legendary broadcaster had watched this same scenario unfold in Washington for nearly 50 years. As Rather described it, Grayson was standing at the fabled “crossroads.” He advised Grayson that Grayson could do what he was told, and he might win or lose. But if he lost, he would feel miserable. But if Grayson showed respect for the job, and did it the right way, then he would feel good, win or lose.
Alan Grayson says that he needed to hear that, he did it the right way, and Rather was right—Grayson lost, by 18 points, but he felt good about what he had done. And two years later, he was back in Congress, winning by 25 points (that 43-point swing was the biggest comeback in Congressional history).
When Grayson tells his Crossroads story he’s not puffing himself up. Instead he’s signaling that he’s familiar with the devils of DC, and he doesn’t sell his soul to them. Some sturdy souls are simply incapable of making those kinds of compromises.
Alan Grayson never really left. He’s still standing at those crossroads, waiting for the rest of us to catch up.
Editors note: The above column does not necessarily reflect the views of The Florida Squeeze on any topic referenced.