Richard Nixon once said, "I am not a crook."
Tim Griffin said, "I am not a zookeeper."
Griffin is leaving Washington, though on his own terms, not unceremoniously like Nixon. And unlike Nixon, his tricks (and those played on his behalf) came before he held office, not during.
The 2nd District congressman's zookeeping reference came in a talk at the Clinton School in May 2007. He'd just resigned as interim U.S. attorney after the publication of an article about Griffin's involvement in GOP caging — disqualifying likely Democratic voters who've moved from their registered addresses — in 2004 in Florida. Asked about it, Griffin said he said he didn't know what caging was. That he had to look it up.
C'mon. The protege of Bush White House trickster extraordinare Karl Rove didn't know what caging was?
Caging was one thing. The more immediate problem Griffin faced was how he'd gotten the U.S. attorney job — through machinations by the Justice Department, finagling that threw U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins under the bus so Griffin could be installed.
Griffin wept during the talk at the school. He said public service "was not worth" the public scrutiny he'd come under and the cost to his family. He didn't know how long-term public servants could do it. He said he and his wife had not been able to enjoy the news that she was pregnant.
More bad press was to come: The DOJ's report a year later confirming that Cummins had been removed not for poor performance but to make way for Griffin. Emails that contradicted the DOJ's earlier assertion that Karl Rove had not been involved. It was at his direction that Griffin got a job that would launch his political career.
Then, in 2008, a swarthy Muslim socialist was elected president — or that's how a previously quiet and shockingly large faction of American society saw it. The wave of anti-Obama feeling in Arkansas in 2010 took that baggage and swept it to sea and Griffin into Congress representing the state's 2nd District. It did not hurt that his Democratic opponent was Joyce Elliott, female, liberal, African American.
Griffin was re-elected in 2012, his issues the stymied Keystone XL Pipeline and the iniquities of the Affordable Care Act. That his popularity had declined a bit — but only a bit — was illustrated in his loss of Pulaski County to Herb Rule, who'd been arrested for DWI during the campaign and whose campaign didn't show much verve, by 10,351 votes.
Griffin was rewarded with a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee. There have been no surprises in his voting record — he's voted the party line to reduce food stamp funding, taken an anti-abortion stand, voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. He is just barely to the left of extremist 4th District Congressman Tom Cotton. Griffin says he is most proud of his bill that "would have given a legal foundation to the president's delay of the employer mandate" (Griffin agreed with the president's action, but not his decision to do it without congressional approval) and of Ways and Means' efforts to lower taxes.
But after a difficult fall, there will be no 2014 race for Griffin. He and fellow House Republicans decided it was better to shutter the government for 16 days than accept Obamacare as the law of the land. During the House-Senate standoff, Griffin — a political animal and not a policy wonk — was roundly scorned for his tweet from the House cloakroom when gunshots were heard outside the Capitol: "Stop the violent rhetoric President Obama, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.#Disgusting." (As it turned out, the populace had not been driven to storm the Capitol by crazed liberal rabble-rousers. A mentally ill woman had tried to ram the gates of the White House and was fleeing police. Griffin didn't apologize, but he did remove the tweet from his Twitter feed.)
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I didn't do it and it'll never happen again.