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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Kevin Griffin, everyman: The Durham businessman’s case to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate

Posted by on Sat, Jan 23, 2016 at 12:53 PM

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Politicians love to say they’ll fight for you. Kevin Griffin makes no such pledge.

“That is such an overused and useless statement,” he says. “It means nothing.”

The Durham businessman is fighting to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, though. Earlier this month, he launched an attack in The News & Observer on presumed frontrunner and former state Rep. Deborah Ross’ record as the head of the state ACLU, arguing that her opposition to the creation of a sex-offender registry and placing the Ten Commandments in classrooms would hurt her chances in November.

In an interview with the INDY Friday, Griffin argued that he’s in the best position to take on Sen. Richard Burr.

Griffin tried to clarify his remarks about Ross’ tenure at the N.C. ACLU by emphasizing that he “doesn’t consider it an attack” to say that Burr will use Ross’ civil-liberties record against her in a general election.

“I think the ACLU does some great things,” says Griffin, a member of the Durham Living Wage Coalition’s steering committee. “At times in the past, they’ve been diametrically opposed to the sentiment in North Carolina—sometimes that’s been a good thing, and sometimes that’s been a bad thing. On the sex-offender registry, they missed the boat. … You have to question that particular judgment. Now, on other things that ACLU does, like standing up for people or making sure we have the right to free speech, those things are phenomenal.”

Griffin also criticized Ross’ opposition to a failed 2001 bill to allow public schools to display the Ten Commandments. “With that bill, my issue with Deborah’s stance centers around the fact that she was threatening to sue every school system in North Carolina that dared to include the Ten Commandments in a history lesson,” Griffin says. Given that, before a 5–4 Supreme Court decision in 2005 settled the question, many constitutional experts considered a government display of the Ten Commandments a violation the Establishment Clause, Ross’ threat to sue was quite reasonable, regardless of whether it made for good politics. For his part, Griffin says he doesn’t think the Ten Commandments should be used as “indoctrination,” but argues that it’s a “belief system a lot of people put faith in, and it did shape the founding of our nation.” 

Griffin argues that his lack of political experience—he’s never held elected office—works in his favor. “Richard Burr will have to run on his own record,” Griffin says. “He can’t run against me and decisions I’ve made in the past, because I’ve only been a businessperson. But in a race against Deborah and to a lesser extent [Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey], he can call into question decisions that they’ve made.”

Griffin casts himself as the everyman in the race, touting his middle-class experience and spurning what he calls “political insiders.”

“I don’t own a beach house or a mountain house,” he says. “I have a small house that I’m renting. I’ve waited tables, I’ve worked on assembly lines, I’ve run a forklift. I’ve experienced life like most people in North Carolina. I think that’s a voice that’s sorely missing in Washington.”

But again: don’t expect him to fight. “People ask me what the difference is between me and Deborah, and I can’t tell you, because I don’t know where she stands on anything,” he says. “Apparently she’s an MMA fighter, because all she wants to do is fight.” 

Asked for comment, Ross campaign manager Dave Hoffman emailed this anodyne statement, which seeks to turn the spotlight on Burr: “Deborah has always been a strong voice for individual opportunity and freedom and she looks forward to taking on Senator Burr who has been part of the problem in Washington for far too long. Instead of being the champion that North Carolina needs, Senator Burr has voted against raising the minimum wage, against equal pay for women and voted to put our senior’s [sic] retirement security in jeopardy. Deborah is running to put the values of North Carolina first.”

According to the most recent polling released by Public Policy Polling, Ross leads the field with 19 percent of the vote to Griffin’s 14 percent and Rey’s 10 percent. Fifty-seven percent of North Carolina Democrats are still undecided.

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