Monday of last week, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., took the 8:55 a.m. flight from Little Rock to Washington, as usual. He hit the ground running that afternoon and didn’t stop much until he was on the plane headed back to Little Rock Thursday afternoon. He spent 30 minutes with his family and then headed to a fundraiser — mostly close friends, he said, who listened as he talked about the personal difficulties of serving in Congress. It was nighttime before he was home.
The next day, his wife, Elizabeth, and children, Mary Katherine, 6, and John, 3, headed out of town to see her parents. He’d barely seen them all week, which was not unusual. Left in Little Rock to work in his campaign office, Griffin finalized a decision he and Elizabeth had been considering for months: He was leaving Congress after two terms.
"My kids, they’re very articulate on this issue, and they made their feelings known, and I would be unfair if I didn’t say that they’ve been a part of this process. … They want to see more of me," he said Monday, the day he made his decision public.
Griffin said others in Congress told him he was making the right decision. Were his children grown and out of the house, a longer congressional career would have been an option. He’s been able to take his son with him to spend a week in Washington, but it’s not like being home. "As my boy in particular has gotten older, his best friend’s his daddy, and I’m the only daddy he’s got," he said.
Supposedly Griffin was somewhat vulnerable this election, and it might have been a tough race, but incumbents rarely lose. Officeholders often say it, but he certainly sounds sincere when he says he’s leaving to spend more time with his family.
This is not a political obituary. Griffin still has 15 months left in his term and, only 45, hasn’t shut the door on running for office later.
He’ll have to make a living regardless, and with his experience in Congress and his law degree, it will be a good one. He said he doesn’t have anything lined up, but as a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, he’s been helping write the nation’s tax laws.
If he wants it, he would not be the first Arkansan to become a lobbyist. Former Sens. Dale Bumpers, Tim Hutchinson and Blanche Lincoln and former Reps. Ed Bethune, Jay Dickey and Beryl Anthony all have done that or something like that. So have former Reps. Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson, the two frontrunners in next year’s governor’s race, though Ross did not do it for long.
Griffin said he never planned a long career in Congress, which is a good thing because I don’t see how a guy whose engine revs that fast could have stayed too long. He’s intense. He sees it as part of his job to engage his constituents – all 700,000 of them, individually if necessary. He gave out his cell phone number during public appearances and would take calls on it. He told me he doesn’t regret doing that, but it must have detracted from needed down time.
Now that the seat won’t be contested by an incumbent, candidates from both parties will be lining up to run for it. It will be a hotly contested race because there’s a chance it could switch parties, which doesn’t happen all that much these days.
Those who run will have to make decisions about their priorities. Often, they’ll have to choose between House and home. As Griffin found, when you’re a member of Congress, lots of people — including the most important ones — want to see more of you, they make their feelings known, and they’re very articulate.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.