U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham won the 2nd District in November campaigning on a North Florida Way theme. Graham explained if sent to Washington then, like the residents of the farming, fishing and logging communities of the 14-county district, elected she would roll up her sleeves and work with others to get things done for the common good.
She squeaked out a victory over an incumbent Tea Party favorite but once in office her approach to politics has caused heartburn on the left, provoked outrage on the right and filled reporters’ email folders with messages criticizing the independent position she has staked out.
Former President Bill Clinton told a get-out-the-vote rally near the end of the fall campaign that the whole country was watching to see whether Graham’s post-partisan message would work as a campaign theme and a governing strategy.
“Don’t kid yourself,” Clinton told a crowd at Florida A&M University about the significance of what Graham was attempting.
Shouts of betrayal from the left have quieted since Graham met with Tallahassee progressives who for the time being are holding their fire And one may see a growing frustration at work in the way the attacks from the right are growing increasingly comical — how can someone walk in lockstep with someone while abandoning them?
U.S. Rep. Graham gave us five minutes to discuss her apparent first winter in office and baseball, hotdogs and apple pie.
Q: How has the North Florida Way been received in Washington?
GRAHAM: It’s doing so well. I’m making friends with people on both sides of the aisle. On the floor, I sit right in the middle and it has allowed me to hug people on the right and hug people on the left and I’m doing exactly what I said I would do in Congress – which is building relationships, having a voice, being independent.
I’m so honored to — in the lengthy two months in which I have been in Congress I have been able to establish myself as someone people turn to and respect and think I have good judgment.
Q: So, you’re performing in office as you promised on the campaign trail that you would. We are not used to this. Why are you rebelling against a well-established American tradition?
GRAHAM: You mean campaigning for office and then doing something different once you are in office? Because I am a person of my word, a person who speaks from the heart and a person who believes the truth, is the truth is the truth. If you tell the truth then your story never changes. That is what I’m proud to live my life by.
Q: Have you ever read Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto?
GRAHAM: I am embarrassed to say I have not. Is it a good book that I need to read? No, I have not read that one. Right now I’m reading Independence, about the foundation of the American Revolution and it is fascinating.
Q: OK, lets talk about America – people and government. The Florida Legislature is very pro-business; doing all it can to be friendly and lower the cost of doing business. A big issue this year is sports subsidies, money to build a soccer stadium and enhance football and baseball operations.
Baseball is America’s past time. Soccer fans like to emphasize the “past time” when arguing for support. Where do you stand? Do you support baseball or are you into some foreign sport like that Canadian creation where people run around in their underwear trying to put a ball through a hoop?
GRAHAM: I actually like watching golf on TV; I find it very relaxing, so yes I am a huge sports fan … I really love college basket; March Madness is one of the highlights of the year for me. And, I’m looking forward to the Congressional Women’s softball game. It’s coming up in June (featuring) the congressional women against women in the press corps. I started trash talking during the campaign, now I have to show my skills in a game.
Q: Last time you ate a hot dog?
GRAHAM: I love hot dogs; it’s a pleasure that I can have only once in awhile. The last one was a couple of months ago at Costco’s – I happened to be a big Costco’s fan. Costco’s has paid me no money for endorsement but they have a great deal. I think it’s like a $1.25 and you get a hotdog and a drink. So, my husband and I, when we go there, we sometimes get a hotdog.
Q: When was the last time you baked an apple pie?
GRAHAM: A very long time ago but my husband is a wonderful cook. He made an apple crumble a couple of nights ago that was delicious.
Q: Do you drive a Chevrolet?
GRAHAM: I do. At the beginning of the campaign we nicknamed the car a Chevictory. It took us to victory and it now carries us around the District in which I am honored to serve the people of North Florida.
Q: Have you hugged Speaker John Boehner?
GRAHAM: I have hugged John Boehner. Yes, I have, and Kevin McCarty. I have.
Q: Congresswoman, there’s a minute left in our five; the floor is yours.
GRAHAM: What I have found in the two months of service is how proud I am to be in this position to help people. That’s what this position is about and that is why I ran. … If there is an issue or anything we can help you (constituents) with, please contact our office, Panama City, Tallahassee.
We’re also starting mobile office hours so that in any of the other 12 counties in the district, please come and let us help you if you have an issue that is ongoing because that is what we are here for.