Griffith stresses higher education, job creation, healthcare

Griffith+stresses+higher+education%2C+job+creation%2C+healthcare

Parker Griffith speaking at Chuck’s Fish yesterday. /CW | Hanna Curlette

Samuel Yang

“Your age group, your students are growing up in one of the most polarized, cynical environments that I have seen,” he said.

Griffith, who attended the Blue River Democrats meeting Monday night at Chuck’s Fish in Tuscaloosa, said he remembers the 1960s, when division led to violence.

“We’ve had these kinds of times, and we’ll have them again if we don’t get involved,” he said. “I would plead with the young people, I would beg them that America and our ideals are not guaranteed.”

He said ignoring politics and choosing to be uninformed is an act of denial and leads to a lack of accountability.

“It is very disappointing for me to look at voter turnout, and the only thing that I can think of is that I have not done my job as a leader to convince a student or a young person that politics are important,” he said.

Griffith said he wants students to recognize Alabama’s role as a crucible in American history. Thanks to the internet, he said, students will have everything they need to recognize him at the ballot box.

“They’re going to like me, or don’t like me,” he said. “What I don’t want them to do is label me, turn me off as ‘Old White Man, I’m sick of him.’”

Voters may also notice that Griffith, who ran for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican in 2010 and 2012, has rejoined the Democratic party. He served as a Democrat in the House from 2009 to 2011. Before that, he served in the Alabama State Senate.

“Most people would not have suggested that anyone run as a Democrat in Alabama. I’m running as a Democrat in Alabama because the Democratic Party looks like Alabama. The Republican Party does not,” he said. “I’m probably a better Democrat than most Democrats, because I’ve been on both sides of the aisle. I can see that the future of Alabama is the Democratic Party and Democratic ideals.”

Griffith said politicians whose campaigns essentially run against President Obama are avoiding talking about real issues.

“It’s cheap, lazy politics because they do not want to address the issues that affect the kitchen tables of Alabama, that affect the children of Alabama, that affect the health of Alabama,” he said.

President Obama’s term ends in two years, he said, so elections in November cannot rely on who is in the White House. As a state, he said, we cannot rely on the “stagnant backwater” in Congress.

“The things that we can do for ourselves, we need to do that,” he said. “We cannot count on our Congresspeople to help us here with our problems.”

One thing the state can do without worrying about Congress, he said, is create a lottery for education.

“It’s essential that we emphasize higher education,” he said. “It’s also essential that it’s affordable for our population here in Alabama.”

Lottery tickets can be purchased in Georgia just five miles from the Alabama border, he said.

“We are funding education for many, many children that do not live in Alabama,” he said.

Attempts to create a lottery have faltered in the past, but Griffith said rising costs will help make this effort bipartisan and successful.

“One of the great things about not being first is you have an opportunity to learn form those who’ve gone before you. Florida has done a good job with its lottery, as has Georgia and Tennessee, so we’ve got people available to us that can give us proper instruction and information. We’ll sit down with our legislature. We’ll craft a bill. We’ll put that out for the people’s approval,” Griffith said. “We have got enough people who understand the importance of education that we can craft that bill. We can make that money sacred.”

Job creation is a top priority for Griffith, and education will feed directly into that.

“Education and health care create an atmosphere where jobs can be created,” he said.

In addition, he said creating jobs in the state will prevent a brain drain of students leaving to join workforces in other states.

“[Other] places are creating jobs that our children are really preparing themselves for at a university just like Alabama,” he said. “If they’re not available for them, they’re going to leave the state. And we don’t want that.”

On the topic of health care, Griffith called Governor Robert Bentley’s inaction irresponsible, threatening health and jobs for citizens.

Other topics that are important to address, he said, are prison reform and the environment. A mandatory minimum sentence for non-violent crimes has strained the prison system and, in turn, the state that funds it.

“Many of them should have gone through drug court, put on probation, required to get their diploma, required that they be drug free for 60 months but not incarcerated. It’s bad for us economically, and it’s bad for them, for their potential,” he said. “It’s a shame we’re not recognizing that.”

In discussing the environment, Griffith drew on the metaphor of an emergency room. If a man came in complaining of chest pains, he said, and a medical exam diagnosed nothing, he would call it an overreaction.

“But what if we sent our environment home and said take an aspirin, call us in the morning and 50 years, our environment is brown, the coastal erosion is significant and some of our animals are now endangered,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be better if we acted on the side of caution?”

The medical imagery comes from Griffith’s background as an oncologist. When he came to Alabama from Louisiana, he treated late-stage cervical cancer – a cancer with a 100 percent cure rate in its early stages.

“I was the first cancer specialist in North Alabama. That’s why I feel so strongly about the expansion of Medicaid. I saw late stage cancer by the hundreds when I came to North Alabama,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen again. I feel strongly about that.”

Griffith’s older brother is also a doctor, and his younger brother is a veterinarian. His father never finished the eighth grade. Though his family was poor, something he said he did not realize until afterwards, they stressed education. Griffith himself started working at ten or eleven.

“I’ve got a great log cabin story, except the real story is I am the American dream as far as my mother and dad were concerned,” he said. “We don’t want it to fade. We’ve got kids out there right now, they’re not sure what the American dream is.”

He told the story of a Starbucks barista who told him she was on “economic sabbatical” from college.

“We don’t want her sidelined,” he said. “We’d like for her to get it done.”