Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson is entering the Democratic primary field against his successor U.S. Rep. Darren Soto ready to brawl, already going after the incumbent as someone he said has done nothing meaningful regarding the district, Puerto Rico, or President Donald Trump.
In an interview Tuesday morning, Grayson took the fighting stance that recalled his image, during three terms in Congress, as a puncher, and he contended that a fighter is needed now in the time of Trump. And Grayson immediately took swings at Soto.
Grayson said his paperwork to run in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, “my old seat,” has been submitted.
“I take no pleasure in saying this saying this because my own sense is I want what is best for the people in Central Florida. But I think he’s been entirely ineffective,” Grayson said of Soto. “I literally can’t think of anything meaningful he’s accomplished in the 16 months he’s been on the job.”
Grayson compared his perception of Soto to his self perception of his own record, serving CD 9 from 2012-’16, and serving in Florida’s Congressional District 10 from 2008-’10. Grayson took credit for bringing the new Veterans Administration Hospital to Orlando; for getting funding to extend SunRail into “the minority southern end of town,” for “fending off the Obama administration’s decision to close [the air traffic control operations at] the Kissimmee Airport;” and for bringing in an extra $100 million in competitive federal grants for the district.
“And… I passed more legislation than any other member of Congress, 121 amendments, bills and resolutions, in four years,” Grayson said. “I don’t see that kind of activity or anything remotely resembling that activity from the Soto office. And I think both the region and Puerto Rico are suffering for it.”
Soto quickly responded with a written statement defending his record on progressive values, and on building local alliances. The latter observation was a jab back at Grayson, whose bombastic character has often alienated him, even among party regulars.
“I have been endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus and every Democratic member of the Florida House delegation precisely because I have stood up for progressive values in Congress and delivered for the district,” Soto stated. “I will be joined by numerous local and state officials and supporters on Thursday to launch my reelection campaign. In contrast, Grayson stands alone today pushing his typical self-promoting smearfest.”
Grayson contended that polls show him doing very well against Soto. And he argued that he did better with voters within CD 9 during the 2016 Democratic primary, when Grayson ran against eventual U.S. Senate nominee Patrick Murphy and Pam Keith, while Soto ran against Grayson’s wife Dena Grayson and Grayson’s former congressional office field director Susannah Randolph, in the CD 9 primary.
There is at least one Republican running this year in CD 9. Wayne Liebnitzky, whom Soto beat in the general election last time, said his paperwork also has been submitted for the 2018 election. Yet barring unforeseen developments, this seat, representing Osceola County, eastern Polk County, and southern Orange County, likely will be decided in the Democratic primary on August 28.
Liebnitzky said the race should be about integrity.
Grayson’s references to Puerto Rico essentially are preemptive. Soto is of Puerto Rican descent, in a district that has the largest concentration of Puerto Rican residents of any in Florida, a community that has grown dramatically in the past couple of years.
While Soto has been very active pushing for relief and support for Puerto Rico, and visited the island several times since Hurricane Maria devastated it last September, Grayson contends he was ineffective in actually getting help for the island, and that he failed in preventing tax changes that punish Puerto Rico in the new tax reform law Congress approved late last year.
“I was constantly blocking efforts, and reversing efforts, to discriminate against Puerto Rico when I was in Congress,” Grayson said. “And this has been the worst year in history for Puerto Rico, not only because of the hurricane, but because of the vicious discrimination that has been perpetrated against Puerto Rico since then that Darren has been unable or unwilling to try to stop.”
The former congressman didn’t stop there. He took on Soto over a wide range of progressive Democratic issues. Among them, Grayson contended that the incumbent abandoned U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi‘s call to vote against the budget continuing resolution because it did not extend the DREAMers program, and that he made statements in his 2016 campaign suggesting he was “open minded” about cutting Social Security benefits.
Then there is Trump. In the past year Grayson, a lawyer who specialized in whistle-blower cases, established a political action committee with the stated goal of ending Trump’s presidency, called LockHimUpNow.Org.
Grayson charged that Soto has twice voted against impeachment efforts in the House. Grayson vowed he would fully support impeachment, immediately, charging that evidence indicates Trump was complicit in the hacking theft of “tens of thousands” of Democratic Party files, and that coverup evidence already includes Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey “over that Russia thing,” paraphrasing Trump’s interview statements.
“Somebody has to stand up to this bully,” Grayson said of Trump. “And I don’t see that happening right now with Soto.”