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Influential Arkansans 

We highlight more than 50 who shape our state.

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Haydar Al-Shukri is the director of the Arkansas Earthquake Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and chair of the Applied Science Department. His mission is to educate the public about natural phenomena. He takes a complex subject he knows well — seismology — and talks about it in a way the public can understand. He's not trying to shake people up — "I don't usually use a scare tactic," said Al-Shukri — in his attempts to educate the public about the risk of an earthquake and ways to prepare for a disaster. He is both educator and researcher; a current project has taken him to a cotton field in Eastern Arkansas, where the Marianna Fault exists, which could produce an earthquake in the future. The Earthquake Center director has won a federal grant to operate six new seismic stations, including one at the New Madrid Fault, and to provide public education and data to the scientific community. Al-Shukri's expertise put him in the middle of the state Oil and Gas Commission's inquiry into whether fracking wastewater wells were causing an increase in the number of earthquakes north of Conway; Al-Shukri, who'd been paid by the well disposal operation Deep Six to conduct tests, testified the wells were not the cause of most of the small quakes. The state Oil and Gas Commission closed one well anyway.

CHAD GRIFFIN
Gay rights

In 1992, a 19-year-old volunteer in Bill Clinton's successful presidential campaign dropped out of Ouachita Baptist University to move to D.C. and work on Clinton's press team, thus becoming the youngest White House staffer ever. Both Griffin and Clinton were born in Hope, and their families were loosely acquainted. "I was inspired by my governor and first lady," Griffin said. "I not only followed him growing up in Arkansas, but I followed my first lady, who was incredibly active in education reform."

Griffin graduated from Georgetown University in Washington with a degree in foreign affairs and began to work on various legislative campaigns. He helped pass a cigarette tax in California that funds early childhood education and fought for stem-cell research. But Griffin is best known as an advocate for gay and lesbian civil rights.

In 2010, voters overturned a California Supreme Court ruling giving same-sex couples the right to marry. Griffin astounded everyone by convincing Theodore Olson and David Boies, lawyers for George Bush and Al Gore, respectively, during the U.S. Supreme Court presidential-election fight, to work together to challenge the law. It was the first time that same-sex marriage had been addressed in a federal court. Thus far, the Olson/Boies team has succeeded in three federal courts and is readying the case for the Supreme Court.

In March, Griffin was named the new president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT advocacy group in the country. "Our movement has come a long way in the last 10 or even five years. If you look over the country, there's over 50 percent bipartisan support for marriage equality, there's tremendous support for an employment nondiscrimination act, 'don't ask, don't tell' is gone, we have the first president of the United States supporting marriage equality, but we still have a long ways to go," Griffin said. Currently, HRC is working on marriage-related ballot measures in Maine, Maryland and Washington, where there are measures to grant marriage equality, and in Minnesota, where HRC is working against a discriminatory measure. "Right now, what's before me are these four ballot measures. These are four opportunities that we can win, and we need to do everything in our power to do that," Griffin said. Beyond that, he plans to work with what he calls "fair-minded religious leaders and legislatures" to fight bullying and discrimination and offer LGBT people — particularly teen-agers — support and stability. For Griffin, "At the end of the day, this is about the Golden Rule."

DAVID BAILEY
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