US Rep. Tim Griffin Running for Lieutenant Governor

LITTLE ROCK — U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin said Thursday that he will seek the Republican nomination for Arkansas lieutenant governor, promising to use his congressional experience and connections to push for policies he says will help grow jobs in the state.

Griffin announced his bid a week after saying he was considering running for the state's No. 2 spot. Griffin said in October that he wouldn't seek a third term in Congress in 2014, saying he wanted to spend more time at home with his wife and family.

"After much prayer, thought and discussion with my wife and family, I have decided to seek the office of lieutenant governor, which will allow me to continue serving Arkansans as a problem solver and watch my 3 year old and 6 year old grow up at our home in Arkansas," Griffin said in a prepared statement.

Griffin was first elected to central Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District in 2010, and he easily won re-election in 2012. Griffin said he could use his experience in Congress to push for policies he said would promote job growth, calling himself "uniquely qualified to navigate the federal-state relationship and be a problem solver here at home."

Griffin's entry into the race gives Republicans a big-name candidate who has a proven ability to fundraise. It also shakes up a primary fight that until the past week had been a relatively low-key contest. Hours after Griffin announced his candidacy, state Rep. Charlie Collins announced he was dropping his bid for the Republican nomination and would back Griffin.

"He's the crystal clear favorite to win the primary and the general election," said Collins, who planned to instead seek re-election to his state House seat.

State Rep. Debra Hobbs on Wednesday joined the lieutenant governor's race, abandoning her bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. State Reps. Andy Mayberry of Hensley is also seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

Former Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter is the only Democrat running for the post.

Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr resigned Feb. 1 over ethics and campaign finance violations.

The lieutenant governor's job is a mostly ceremonial, part-time position whose duties include presiding over the state Senate and casting the rare tie-breaking vote in the 35-member chamber. The lieutenant governor is the next in line as acting governor if the governor is out of state or otherwise unable to serve. The lieutenant governor's salary is about $42,000 a year.

Griffin's candidacy also raises the likelihood that the federal health care overhaul will again be an issue in the race for lieutenant governor. The congressman said he remains opposed to the state's "private option" program that uses federal Medicaid money to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. The program was crafted as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal overhaul.

"I'm open to hear the argument, I'm open to hear new information I don't have, but I have not seen anything that satisfactorily addresses my concerns yet," Griffin told The Associated Press Thursday.

Hobbs voted against the program last year, while Mayberry supported it. Arkansas lawmakers are weighing whether to reauthorize the program, which has extended private health coverage to more than 87,000 people.

Griffin vowed to cut the office's spending and reduce the number of staff. Griffin also announced that Lisenne Rockefeller, the widow of the late Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller, would serve as his campaign chairwoman.

Griffin was named to the House Ways and Means Committee in late 2012, becoming the first Republican from Arkansas to serve on the tax-writing panel. At the time, Griffin said he wouldn't run for Arkansas governor or the U.S. Senate because of the appointment.

Griffin is a former interim U.S. attorney who's also worked in the White House Office of Political Affairs.

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