Monday, October 11, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Why it's Joyce Elliott

Tim Griffin, the Republican candidate for the U. S. House of Representatives, deflects questions about what he has done the past 15 years by saying that he wants to talk about the future, not the past. It is a clever riposte. Who does not prefer to talk about the future?

But what could be more important in guessing how a largely unknown politician will perform in the future as a congressman than knowing what he has spent his adult life doing? The election of a U. S. representative from central Arkansas is all about the candidates’ pasts, or else it should be, because their records are the most reliable predictor of how they would approach the work of representing the people of the Second District.

We think a comparison of their careers favors Joyce Elliott, a schoolteacher who was graded as one of the most effective state lawmakers of the decade. You may prefer Tim Griffin’s lusty record as Washington political hatchet man — no, there is no better phrase to describe it — but it ought to be discussed and reviewed as thoroughly as Elliott’s record in the state Senate and House of Representatives.

You can examine Griffin’s résumé on his campaign website. It lists his jobs in Washington from 1995 until his bosses at the White House had U. S. Attorney Bud Cummins fired in 2006 to make room for him. But the job titles do not tell you much about what he did. Griffin was an opposition researcher, which meant he dug up dirt on Democrats. His first job was for a special prosecutor looking into San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros’s payments to a woman with whom he had once had an affair. Cisneros became President Clinton’s housing secretary. That trifling work, if you can believe it, took a couple of years.

Griffin went to work in 1997 for Congressman Dan Burton’s Government Reform Committee investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton. Burton called the president “a scumbag,” adding, “That’s why I’m after him.” Griffin and the notorious David Bossie, with whom he would later work again, tried to unearth fundraising scandals on Clinton and the Democratic Party. Bossie’s treacherously edited transcripts of audiotapes of a prison interview with Little Rock lawyer Webb Hubbell turned into a scandal itself. Republicans, including Speaker Newt Gingrich, denounced Burton’s investigation and Burton eventually apologized and fired Bossie for concocting the lying document and putting it on the air. Griffin quietly stayed on. Griffin’s boss, Burton, who had castigated Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, had to admit when a Vanity Fair article revealed it in 1998 that he had himself fathered a child with a government employee under him.

Griffin left Burton to direct opposition research for the Republican National Committee in 2000 and 2004. He surfaced in a BBC documentary, “Digging Dirt,” bragging about planting derogatory stories in the media about Democrats. He said he “makes the bullets” for the “war” against people in the other party. Above his desk was a poster that read “On my command, unleash hell (on Al).”

A 2004 article titled “Playing Dirty” in the stately old magazine The Atlantic recounted Griffin’s labors scouring the news and TV shows looking for derogatory things about Democrats and planting them in newspapers and with friendly TV and radio hosts. Media columnist Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post wrote about Griffin’s work in 2003: “As the man in charge of investigating the opposition, the research chief blasts his findings to the entire press corps in mass e-mailings, then sits back and watches the negative stuff spread like a computer virus.” Each time a Democrat announced that he would run for president Griffin flooded media in-boxes across the country with derogatory stories and rumors about him.

Griffin was a Washington operator, but he occasionally favored Arkansas. His résumé once listed a stint as campaign manager for Betty Dickey, the prosecuting attorney at Fort Smith who ran for attorney general in 1998, but that has been scrubbed from his biography. Here is why:

Although he left his party work in Washington to run Dickey’s campaign, Griffin went on the state payroll in Arkansas as a deputy prosecuting attorney. He ran her campaign from the prosecutor’s office, savings precious money for Dickey’s campaign fund. His work was exposed when Mark Pryor, Dickey’s opponent, demanded that she release her office’s telephone records, which he said would show political calls from her government office. Dickey admitted that she and Griffin had made campaign calls from the office but she said the long-distance calls were not paid from public funds but from her own.

She said Griffin had been on the government payroll as a deputy prosecutor but only for a month or two. Then she put him on the campaign payroll. Contacted in September 1998 by a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in Washington, where he had returned to work with David Bossie, Griffin said he had paid for the long-distance calls from the prosecutor’s office with his credit card and that if anyone could find calls that he had overlooked (the phone records were not made public) he would happily write a check to the county government.

But paying for toll calls was not the point. He had been running a political operation from government offices while he was a government employee, if only in name. That was illegal.

You know about his more recent work, as an employee of the White House political office under Karl Rove, which masterminded the ouster of Republican U. S. attorneys like Cummins who were not considered aggressive enough in protecting Republicans and tarnishing Democrats. Griffin told people at the White House and the Justice Department that his friend Cummins was lazy. He landed Cummins’s job for a few months under an emergency appointment but quit rather than face questions about his past from a Senate subcommittee.

People in the Second District may not know much about this young man who recently moved into their midst, but his reputation in Washington, D. C. and the House of Representatives is very well known. We are not sure that will be advantageous to the people of the district.

Senator Elliott’s reputation will better serve them.