Rep. Tim Griffin's departure


A politician or other figure in the public arena who announces he wishes to spend more time with his family and therefore is stepping aside ordinarily is (a) in the shadow of indictment, (b) embroiled, or about to be, in personal scandal or (c) staring at a very discouraging poll.

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Pulaski and seven other central Arkansas counties, says he wishes to spend more time with his family.

Now, there is no reason, none, to believe Griffin is in violation of any criminal statute, state or federal; and while Yellow Dog Democrats regard as scandalous his voting record and his previous incarnation as an aide to Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s primary political operative, not a whiff of personal indiscretion attaches. Which leaves the matter of ominous polls — though none have yet presented that suggest wholly insurmountable difficulties for Griffin, in either a Republican primary or the general election, had he sought a third term next year.

So, absent any evidence to the contrary, why not take Griffin at his word? As it did for his 2nd District predecessor, Vic Snyder, fatherhood came later in life for Griffin than for most men. And as did Snyder at age 49, Griffin at 39 discovered he quite liked it. Young children are a formidable consideration for any member of Congress. Former senators, David Pryor and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, among other delegates of our state, have spoken candidly of the agony of sacrificing school functions and family weekends to the modern political imperative the airplane embodies. Too, as in the case of Snyder, now an insurance executive, the opportunities the private sector affords a former lawmaker lessens the prospect of Griffin’s progeny in peril of scurvy. Or that only the Obamacare which Griffin attempted to derail would avert a Griffin bankruptcy should, heaven forbid, a fall from a treehouse require an arm’s length of emergency room plaster.

Snyder voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2009 before retiring from Congress. Whether he could have survived the anti-Obama frenzy that was the 2010 election cycle is unknowable but it would have been a difficult race. How damaged was Griffin by his cheerleading for a fortnight’s closing of the government and his debt-ceiling brinkmanship? That is knowable, and we can suspect the impact was substantial if, as noted, not necessarily fatal. Moreover, wounds identical to Griffin’s are visible on the political hides of two of his three House colleagues from Arkansas, all Republicans.

Their misreading of the electorate’s response to the budget-debt showdown — more accurately, their belated recognition of it — became apparent at 9:18 on the night of October 16, when the House took up HR2775, the measure to end the standoff. The Senate already had approved it, with both Sens. Pryor and Boozman of Arkansas in the majority. Rep. Steve Womack of the 3rd District much earlier had made plain his belief that shuttering the bureaucracy and spooking the planet over the debt ceiling was stupid politically as well as fiscally, and was a certain “aye.”

Womack’s Arkansas brethren, however, had firmly aligned themselves with the Tea Party wing of the GOP, blaming the White House and congressional Democrats for the chaos and all but welcoming the looming apocalypse — a small price, they implied, for scrapping the hated Obamacare. Yet when the vote was taken all three hardliners — Rick Crawford of the 1st, Griffin of the 2nd, Tom Cotton of the 4th — fell in line, joining the moderates of their splintered party and House Democrats in supporting an end to the foolishness.

Instructive: The resolution would have passed without their votes; the majority’s margin was so large that Crawford, Griffin and Cotton could have remained in the opposition had they resolved to do so. A vote against would have delighted their Tea Party constituents, no question. But a far larger constituency preferred a different beverage.

Intriguing: Contrast the capitulation of Messrs. Crawford, Griffin and Cotton (who is leaving his seat to oppose Pryor) with their GOP counterparts elsewhere in the Old South. All nine of Georgia’s Republican representatives voted against the deal, as did all three of Mississippi’s. The Republican delegations of Louisiana (four), South Carolina (sxi), Tennessee (seven) and Texas (24) were likewise unanimous in their disapproval.

Question: Could it be that Arkansas has not become as ferociously conservative, as resolutely Red, as its region? That the middle ground may still be the more fertile politically? That secession remains out of fashion? That hot tea is better sipped than gulped?

Whatever prompted Griffin’s decision to spend more time with his family, his departure gives the Democratic Party a decent shot at taking back his seat; and the backlash against the rebellion that he, Crawford and Cotton so enthusiastically joined offers it opportunities elsewhere.

Arkansas indeed may get steadily redder. But completely red — not there yet, and the road suddenly is rougher.

Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff and the host of Arkansas Week on AETN.