AUGUSTA, Ga. March 23, 2014— Derrick Grayson is not a name you’re likely to see in Politico or hear on Hannity. You probably won’t catch him on the evening news and you may never see his face in a tidy 30-second spot tucked between blocks of your favorite show. But in conference halls and banquet rooms across the state of Georgia, people are beginning to whisper about first-time political candidate Derrick Grayson. Despite the long-shot odds he faces in a field so stuffed with well-known names, Grayson’s campaign has proven that a powerful message can sway more voters than can donors, strategists, and snazzy yard signs.
Dripping with populist appeal, Derrick Grayson exudes the kind of raw charisma that only the Obamas of the world can muster. His unfiltered, unapologetic manner of speaking captivates nearly every audience he manages to get in front of, and his spunky one-liners—often composed on the fly—leave debate opponents shuffling through their notes and shifting at the podium.
For all of the buzz surrounding his surprise candidacy, Grayson refuses to play by the rules of what he sees as a corrupt political game. While mega-watt players like Jack Kingston and David Perdue rake in millions from corporations, PACs, and wealthy political operatives, Grayson has scraped together mere pennies in comparison.
A strong constitutional conservative with the ironclad principles to prove it, Grayson declines to take cash from organizations that would compel him to return the favor down the line. “[PACs] have agendas that they want to see pushed, and I don’t want their money,” he says. “You want to give, fine. But the only thing I owe you is one hundred percent of the Constitution. That’s all I’ll owe anybody who donates to this campaign.”
Empty coffers haven’t stopped Grayson from making his mark on a crowded and colorful primary struggle. His clear, simple message of strict adherence to constitutional principles resonates with most Georgia Republicans, especially given the bad taste that outgoing incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss has left in their collective mouth. Punctuated by the catchy slogan, “100% of the Constitution, 100% of the time,” Grayson’s speeches, videos, and interviews about the importance of the seminal American document demonstrate his obvious passion for what he preaches. His social media sobriquet, “Minister of Truth,” embodies both his actual experience as a Christian minister and his commitment to bringing the truth about the political process to Georgians.
“There’s really not much difference in the agendas of the political royals, regardless of their party. I’m talking about the Republicans and the Democrats. And I’ve found that they like to keep us divided,” he explains. “Because the longer we’re distracted, the more they can push forward their agendas, and we’re not any more the wiser.”
Political ‘royals,’ according to Grayson, are the “political elites who pull the strings.” Royals drive policy in Washington, rig elections for the chosen candidate, and print packaged stories in the papers; in Grayson’s view, they dominate political life and pose a threat to individual liberties.
While Grayson has a bone to pick with nearly every cog in the political machine, none are quite so big as the one between him and the fourth estate. A long history of being misquoted, excluded, and downplayed in the press has fed Grayson’s distrust of the media as a whole. Citing its complicity in sweeping threats to the political status quo under the rug, Grayson insists that the press has played villain to his white knight campaign.
“Why would the press not make available to the public everyone that is running and give them the same amount of respect?” he asks. Indeed, most coverage of Georgia’s Republican primary hardly mentions the underdog candidate, if it slips him in at all. Referring to a previous article in this very column, Grayson warned, “When you print stuff like that, you do a disservice to the public.”
The electric libertarianism of Ron Paul first pulled Grayson into politics after a friend tipped him off to the Texan’s YouTube teachings. But when Grayson witnessed the way the establishment dealt with Paul and his liberty movement, he decided to put himself in a position to affect real change. “Everybody may not have liked Ron Paul, that’s fine, but at least let the people know that he’s available to be considered,” he laments. “And they wouldn’t do that. They played all kinds of tricks and games, just so the man’s message couldn’t be heard. I was appalled.”
Nearly a year after jumping into the Senate race, Grayson now uses every tool available to make his own message heard. His prolific social media outfit features a series of videos, dubbed his “drive-time” clips, in which he dissects an issue du jour while driving. Some of his drive-time videos have caught the public eye, including one that rips the Georgia Republican Assembly for housing “a bunch of damn bigots.”
Regarding the GRA, Grayson had cause to vent thus after the organization “accidentally” left his name off of a recent straw poll. Such institutional slights, like a malfunctioning microphone that was not replaced during the last debate and which cost the candidate chunks of precious airtime, have become a regular part of campaigning for the Grayson team. Obstacles that would send any fame-seeker packing have only served to embolden the campaign, now spurred on by the pursuit of electoral justice come May 20, the day of the primary.
On the issues, Grayson maintains a common-sense approach to applying classic constitutionalism to the legislative process. An important component of his Senatorial style would include keeping Georgians engaged, he says. “When legislation comes across the floor, if I’ve got to pay somebody out of my own pocket, we will go through that legislation and we will disseminate what’s in it to the American people,” he states. “Because when you tell people what’s really going on in D.C., they tend to do things a little bit differently.”
“That transparency that Obama was talking about?” Grayson adds. “We didn’t get that.”
Cutting spending, preserving Second amendment rights, and encouraging devolution in the education system hover at the top of Grayson’s policy to-do list, which focuses on restoring individual freedoms across the board. “I will not compromise on the liberties and freedoms of the American people. Period,” he says. “That’s not debatable. It’s not optional. It’s a job requirement,” adding, “It’s amazing to me that I’ve got to explain that.”
Grayson sees the need for a big fix in Common Core, the reviled federal education package that has conservatives everywhere steaming from the ears. “Common Core is a way to get the government further entrenched in our education by making it a requirement for all institutional programs,” he states. “Everybody’s not going to college, but that’s the premise of Common Core.”
Ticking off a list of failed education policies, from President Jimmy Carter’s implementation of the Department of Education to President George W. Bush’s defunct No Child Left Behind, Grayson argues that inner-city black schools have been hit the hardest and that the quality of all schools are next on the federal government’s chopping block. “Who still enjoys decent schools in this country? People who are home-schooled, people that are in private schools, and those in religious schools. Common Core will affect all of them, and then you will start to see the same trend that took place in many of the black schools.”
Although Grayson bases his personal position on social issues on his strong Christian values, he refuses to be pulled into the endlessly petty social slog that has tripped up fellow candidates like Rep. Paul Broun and Rep. Phil Gingrey. “We’re not there to deal with the social issues of the country, as senators,” he explains. “That’s not our call. Our call is to protect the rights of the states.”
A softened stance on same-sex marriage seems nearly impossible in the ultra-conservative political landscape of Georgia—especially given the fact that Michelle Nunn, the presumed Democratic candidate, won’t even voice support for the liberal bedrock. However, Grayson has managed to find his footing on a middle ground.
“The government ain’t got no business being involved in marriage,” he claims. “Any laws that deal with marriage that are on the government’s rolls need to be rescinded. Marriage is a church thing; that’s a religious thing. If there are gay people out there that want to get married, let them find a gay church.”
In the spirit of a truly unbiased constitutionalist, Grayson goes on to express his approval of civil unions in the eyes of the law. “Let me be clear now—I do not support same-sex unions as a Christian, but I would not stand in the way of two individuals if that’s what they want to do,” he says. “If that is their pursuit of happiness, then I want them to have it.”
Georgia’s rapidly shifting demographic make-up has caused some election analysts to worry that the Peach State could turn blue in the next few cycles. The minority population of Georgia has grown substantially over the past ten years, particularly in Atlanta, and concerns over the safety of Chambliss’ Republican seat have been stoked by the unknowables that come with such a dramatic influx. “If the Republican Party doesn’t wake up and smell the coffee,” Grayson warns, “this will become a blue state.” However, Grayson disagrees with the prevailing wisdom as to why.
“It’s not because of the blacks; they already don’t have most blacks,” he explains. “It’s going to be the white people they’re losing, because they’re violating the Constitution. That’s a fact.”
Thanks in part to his team of unpaid devotees—full-time staffers that serve out of the sheer depths of their belief in Grayson’s message—this once peripheral player has now edged himself into the center of one of the toughest-to-predict races in the nation. A candid, passionate supporter of the founding fathers’ vision, Grayson paints himself as the breath of fresh air that Washington needs so desperately. To anyone who spends more than five minutes in his presence, his sincerity becomes obvious.
“If people don’t want one hundred percent constitutionality, they’ll vote for one of those other guys,” he says. “If they want one hundred percent of the Constitution, they’ll vote for me. I am the only constitutional conservative on that stage. The difference with me is, I believe in liberty for everybody. I don’t want to control what gays do in the bedroom. If you want to be a bum, I don’t want to try to tell you [that] you don’t have the right to be a bum. But I want to protect the rights of individuals to be who they are. That means one hundred percent of the Constitution, one hundred percent of the time.”