Arkansas politics is never boring. This week, Republican Congressman Tim Griffin of Little Rock surprised virtually everyone on Monday morning with an announcement that he will not seek a third term representing the 2nd Congressional District.
"We have decided that now is the time for me to focus intently on my top priority, my family, as Elizabeth and I raise our two young children," said Griffin in a prepared statement. "To that end, I will not seek re-election to a third term. I will complete my second term, but I have made no decision as to my plans after Congress except that I will continue in public service, including as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve."
Part of the surprise was that Griffin had all the appearances of a guy running for re-election. His recent campaign finance report showed he had raised over $200,000 just last quarter and had over half a million dollars in the bank. He was hiring campaign staff, notably including David Ray, who left his job as communication director for the Republican Party of Arkansas to take the job as Griffin’s campaign manager.
Add to that Griffin has become a key player within the House of Representatives. His seat on the House Ways and Means Committee is perhaps the most coveted and powerful spots in the House. Such a rapid ascension for a second term congressman is rare.
On the other hand, it is not completely surprising when you think about his decision. The daily grind of being a congressman is far from glamorous with long flights from Washington, D.C. to Little Rock and many nights away from home and his young children.
There’s also the point that he may have been forced to deal with more tantrums from his colleagues in Washington than his children in Little Rock. The gridlock from the two chambers of Congress and bickering between and among the two parties is certainly more than any sane person could endure.
Griffin says the recent shutdown was not a factor in his decision, but it certainly could not have made the job more appealing. Doing the back and forth, Griffin joined a bipartisan group called "No Labels" that worked to end the stalemate.
Although Griffin says that he will not be running for Congress or any other office in 2014, he certainly seems to be leaving the door open for running for another office down the road. That makes sense considering his rather unconventional path to his current office.
Prior to running for Congress, Griffin spent most of his career working behind the scenes in positions such as research director for the Republican National Committee during President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004. His effectiveness in that and other positions earned him the respect of his party and the anger of his opponents.
From there he went to work in the Bush White House Office of Political Affairs. Then he had a brief stint as interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. But the position was clouded by controversy because he was a recess appointment and not confirmed by the Senate. The move was seen as political and opponents of President Bush pounced.
I restated history to point out Griffin’s track record. Griffin resigned from the U.S. Attorney office and took a brief respite from public service. For a couple years, he ran what certainly appeared to be a successful political and legal consulting business. But when opportunity presented itself in 2009 he jumped back in and ran for Congress.
His exit has changed the landscape of the 2014 elections in Arkansas. One bright spot for Republicans is the long list of potential candidates to replace him. But after enjoying a few years with his children and returning to behind-the-scenes consulting, I expect Griffin to come roaring back.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.