By Steve Hunley
The Gannett newspapers are heralding the “bipartisan” effort to repeal the signature legislation pushed by Governor Bill Lee and approved by the Tennessee General Assembly – – – the Educational Savings Accounts. Bo Mitchell, a liberal Nashville Democrat, has filed a bill to repeal the ESA legislation in the next session of the legislature. The “bipartisan” aspect of the bill – – – which is co-sponsored by all the Democrats in the state House of Representatives but for one – – – is Bruce Griffey.
Virtually everybody reading this is asking himself or herself, “Who in the world is Bruce Griffey?” Griffey is a first-term Republican from Paris, Tennessee who represents three largely rural counties in the northwestern corner of the state. Griffey is an interesting ally to a slew of largely urban ultra-leftist Democrats as he was the sponsor of some the most controversial immigration bills in last year’s session of the General Assembly. The only Democrat in the House who has not signed onto to Bo Mitchell’s bill is John DeBerry of Memphis, who actually voted for the ESA legislation. Griffey outlined the reasons for his co-sponsoring the repeal of the ESA legislation with a host of urban Democrats, which even the Gannett newspapers labeled a “diatribe.” Mitchell, apparently somewhat practical, distanced himself from Griffey’s reasoning, likely solely for the talking point that the Paris Republican’s co-sponsorship makes the bill appear “bipartisan.”
Griffey claims he believes the ESA legislation would be a playground for “fraud and abuse”, which he illustrated with a theoretical example quoted by the Gannett newspapers. Griffey foresees the likelihood of a parent or parents who purchases a $1300 laptop with ESA money, only to turn around and sell “it for 50 cents on the dollar and pocket[s] $650 cash that could be spent on drugs or alcohol.” No wonder Bo Mitchell moved mighty quick to distance himself from his bipartisan fellow’s reasons for co-sponsoring his bill.
Bruce Griffey also raised the prospect of drug-addicted parents receiving $7300 per child and wondered if that would improve the child’s education?
Griffey also speculated the state money could be used to pay for tuition to “Islamic or other religious schools”, God forbid.
As appalling as some of Griffey’s views are, I suspect his true reason for signing onto the bill to repeal the ESA bill has more to do with politics and personal pique. After the last session of the Tennessee General Assembly, Bruce Griffey lobbied hard for his wife Rebecca to be appointed to a vacant Chancery Court seat. Griffey sent the governor a handwritten note stating, “I would be forever in your debt” if his wife were given the appointment.
The appointment was the prerogative of Governor Bill Lee. If Griffey is outdone by anyone as to be outspoken in his views, it might very well be by his wife. The process calls for three names to be forwarded to the governor who has the right to reject all the proposed appointees, or appoint someone recommended by the selection committee. Rebecca Griffey was not one of the three people recommended to Governor Lee for the judgeship. According to press reports at the time, when his wife was not one of the three top contenders, an email was sent from Griffey’s account stating Lee “will gain in popularity if you pick Rebecca, and lose support in the district if you go with someone else. I know this district – – – please trust me in this.” In a letter sent to gubernatorial aide Lang Wiseman, Griffey complained if his wife failed to be appointed it would be nothing less than “a gross miscarriage of justice.”
Rebecca Griffey took to Facebook to vent her outrage over the governor’s failure to appoint her to the bench. “Today was a big slap in the face to longtime, dedicated Republicans who have devoted blood, sweat, tears and money for years to the Republican cause,” Mrs. Griffey pecked out.
The governor appointed Huntingdon attorney Jennifer King to the Chancery Court judgeship and West Tennesseans were astonished when she resigned literally days later. King said accepting the judicial appointment was one “of the worst decisions” of her entire life.
Perhaps the biggest reason Jennifer King resigned the Chancery Court judgeship was because State Representative Bruce Griffey and his wife finagled changing the way the judicial nominee would be selected in 2020 when the seat would be up for election. Apparently the five counties in the judicial district will have a caucus instead of a primary.
It is certainly true Bruce Griffey originally voted against the ESA legislation when it was first considered, but I cannot help but believe his co-sponsorship of the repeal bill has as much to do with political revenge as anything. It sure has nothing to do with statesmanship.
The Democrats in the legislature are welcome to Bruce Griffey and his wife, too, for that matter.