Griffin talks job creation, private option


FORT SMITH — The lieutenant governor’s office is critical in advocating for and influencing the adoption of policy, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin said Wednesday.

Griffin, R-Little Rock, won the Republican nomination in the May primary for lieutenant governor and faces Democrat John Burkhalter in the November general election. Griffin spoke Wednesday with the Times Record, during a campaign stop at the Sebastian County courthouse in Fort Smith.

“There are a number of offices that you could theoretically have vacant, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t need them, it just means that you’re not getting the benefit of them while they’re vacant,” Griffin said.

Griffin said the real influence of the lieutenant governor, the state’s second-ranking constitutional officer who presides over the Senate and serves as acting governor when the governor is away, is found in the inherent powers of the office and the ability to advocate policy. He pointed to two instances in recent years where a lieutenant governor has used the power of office to establish permanent policy in the state.

Former Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, a Republican, pushed for greater transparency in state government during his 2010 campaign, and was influential in the passage of the Arkansas Financial Transparency Act, creating the “online checkbook,” which required the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration to publish a database of state government expenditures.

Former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, a Democrat, pushed for creation of a scholarship lottery in Arkansas during his 2006 campaign and continued to push for it until Arkansas voters approved its creation in 2008.

Griffin said, if elected, his focus will be establishing policies to grow jobs, make it easier for small businesses to gain access to capital, and to increase employment opportunities for those without college degrees.

Griffin spoke of adopting a statewide strategy to developing more “highly skilled” employment positions.

“We have communicated to a lot of our young people that the road to excellence is college and then there’s ‘other.’ I think this is wrong and I think we’re doing a disservice to a lot of young people,” Griffin said, explaining that often people decide against college for reasons other than not being able to afford college or not having a desire to attend college, but instead are more interested in getting employment in certified trades.

Griffin said he wants to create opportunities for those interested in achieving skilled-trade employment.

“I think there is not just one track to excellence; there is more than one track and one of those is the highly skilled track. It’s not a lesser track, it’s a different track and those kids are just as smart and just as able,” he said. “We are going to put all of the import there is on college, but we have to have a practical recognition that not everybody is going to go to college and we need to make sure there is a highly skilled training route available to let them focus and have an expertise.”

Griffin added that there is a tremendous need for the highly skilled positions and that the state should not ignore those positions or the entities hiring for those positions.

Griffin briefly discussed the so-called “private option,” Arkansas’ program that uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Griffin said his primary concern is what will happen to the program when it is no longer fully-funded by the federal government and there is no dedicated funding stream to keep the program afloat. He said the state would be left scrambling to find more funding, likely through additional tax money, otherwise the program would lack sufficient funding.

The lieutenant governor’s office has been vacant since Darr resigned Feb. 1 after the state Ethics Commission fined him $11,000 for misuse of campaign contributions and taxpayer money. According to the state website, the office was created in 1914 but no one served as lieutenant governor until 1926 when state legislator Harvey Parnell of Chicot County was elected.