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From Wal-Mart to the White House 

Hope produces a champion for gay rights.

click to enlarge GRIFFIN: Oppose the homophobes.
  • GRIFFIN: Oppose the homophobes.

Quick: Name the wunderkind from Hope who went to the White House in 1993.

That would be Chad Griffin, born in Hope, raised in Arkadelphia, a fresh-faced 19 years old when Dee Dee Myers invited him to work in the West Wing press office.

Now a political consultant in Los Angeles, Griffin has earned what might be a more substantial claim to fame: Backed by a foundation created by actor and director Rob Reiner and headed by Griffin, he put together the wildly unlikely legal team of Theodore Olson and David Boies to head the challenge of California's Proposition 8, the gay-marriage repeal voted last year.

That's Olson and Boies as in Bush v. Gore, in which the ultra-conservative Olson represented George W. Bush and Boies represented Al Gore. Olson served in Ronald Reagan's administration, was solicitor general in Bush's and is a high-profile member of the right-wing Federalist Society. His support of a legal theory that says the Constitution prohibits the states from banning same-sex marriage raised every eyebrow.

Even Griffin's. “When someone said to me you should talk to Ted Olson; you might be surprised,” Griffin was skeptical. “The Ted Olson I know was Bush v. Gore. He outsmarted us.” But after meeting confidentially with Olson in Washington, Griffin became convinced that Olson truly believed California's ban to be unconstitutional. He wasn't going to throw the case, as some initially suggested. “He doesn't want to lose the most significant civil rights case” of our time, Griffin said. “This is Ted Olson's legacy.”

Looking up over his catfish and sweetened tea at the bar of the Capital Hotel, the former Arkadelphia Badger said, “Any thinking person knows the way this issue is headed.”

Who would have known where Griffin was headed when he volunteered to work in Bill Clinton's presidential campaign office in Little Rock in 1992?

 

 n Here's how Chad Griffin, now 36, became the youngest person ever to be employed in the West Wing:

After his senior year in high school, Griffin, who was deeply interested in international news and politics and had spent a summer in Japan, went to Germany on scholarship to study for a year. Back home, Clinton had announced he was running for president. People outside Arkansas weren't taking the campaign very seriously, but a Californian Griffin was studying with abroad was a big Clinton fan.

The morning after the day he returned to Arkadelphia, Griffin got a phone call from the California man.

“What the hell are you doing at home?” the friend asked Griffin. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?' ”

“The next president of the United States is your governor and is headquartered in Little Rock and you should be there today,”  the friend said.

“And the next day I drove to Little Rock,” Griffin said, “and I walked in the volunteer office and they said do you want to open mail or answer phones and I said I want to work in the press office. And I became Dee Dee Myers' intern.”

It was June, before the convention. Griffin took classes at Ouachita Baptist University two days a week and traveled the other five to Little Rock.

Nodding in the direction of the Old Statehouse, Griffin said, “On election night, I was standing right across the street. I had never taken the step of ... He's gonna be president?”

Myers hired Griffin for the transition press team. Ten days before the inauguration, “Dee Dee asked me if I wanted to come on the press charter and help. I said, ‘Are you kidding me?' ”  He packed a bag, got on the plane and was off to D.C.

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