Republican Tim Griffin says he will emphasize stricter policies and an overhauled parole system to combat rising crime if elected Arkansas attorney general, while Democratic opponent Jessie Gibson wants to lower recidivism rates to free up prison space.
Griffin, the current lieutenant governor of Arkansas, and Gibson, a Little Rock attorney, will face off in the November 8 general election. Early voting starts on October 24th.
Griffin, 53, defeated Leon Jones Jr. in the Republican primary on May 24 after initially announcing he would run to succeed Governor Asa Hutchinson. Griffin dropped out of the governor’s race and ran for attorney general after Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders — the daughter of former Governor Mike Huckabee and former press secretary for former President Donald Trump — resigned for the state’s highest elected position had announced.
“I have now been elected for 12 years, and I have served by working hard and doing what I said, by showing integrity and by being a good steward of taxpayers’ money,” Griffin said. “I reduced my budget and reduced my staff in my first year in the lieutenant governor’s office and have not asked for more since. I will bring the same approach to the Attorney General’s office.”
Griffin of Little Rock said his experience as Lieutenant Governor, a former congressman representing the 2nd Circuit, and a former US attorney separates him from Gibson.
“I have experience in various parts of government as a legislature and as a congressman and in legislative roles as president of the Senate,” he said. “I was in the military and can overlook the National Guard. I also have experience with the federal and state governments, and many state governments deal with the federal government.”
Gibson, 48, said he believes a Democrat can win a statewide race in Arkansas, which has been dominated by Republicans for several years.
“I would say as a state, we’re more of a nonparticipating state than a Republican state,” he said. “We are last in the nation in almost every election metric. There are as many as 1.1 million Arkansans who just don’t vote. We have to give them a vision for the future and a vision for something better than what we have.”
Gibson said too many elected officials want to bring their policies and beliefs into the legislative process, and that’s how bad policies and bad legislation are created.
“That’s the difference between my opponent and me,” Gibson said. “I view the Attorney General’s office as one of right and wrong, not a political twist. When you’re a political hammer, everything looks like a political nail. Let’s avoid that as Attorney General.”
Gibson said if elected, he would stand side by side with law enforcement to stop the rise in violent crime in Arkansas.
“It’s extremely important to always lead the charge against violent crimes,” he said. “That said, what Arkansas is really suffering from is our relapse and relapse problem.”
Gibson said the state needs to get serious about ending the backslide.
“What we’re doing right now is cycling people through the system and getting them back onto the streets to commit crime again,” he said. “We have to do the hard things when it comes to education and training [for prisoners] So when people opt out, they can become productive, taxpaying citizens again.”
Griffin said his first priority, if elected, would be reform of the state’s criminal justice system.
“First and foremost, I would acknowledge that much of the crime spike we’re seeing as a state — not just in Little Rock, but across the state — stems from violence committed by repeat violent offenders,” he said. “A significant number of them are parole officers who should not have been paroled in the first place.”
Griffin also wants to create a “GI bill” for law enforcement to ensure they are properly compensated.
“A GI bill is a federal program that allows individuals who serve to give themselves and their families credit for their education. I want that for law enforcement,” he said. “When you commit to a certain number of years in law enforcement, you get credit for the education.
“This will help law enforcement officers and their families from a financial standpoint and will help create the most educated and prepared law enforcement agencies.”
Griffin said he would also support reviewing prison programs for effectiveness.
“We want [felons] to get out there and be successful,” he said. “Ultimately, those who come out of there come into a neighborhood close to you and mine, and we want them to be successful and build a career.”
Griffin said violent offenders are serving only a fraction of their sentences because of a lack of available prison beds, and this is driving the rise in murder, rape and other violent crimes.
“In terms of how you’re going about this, the first thing we need to do is create more space in the state prison system,” he said. “For those who, for whatever reason, do not want to expand prisons, I tell them that we have already expanded prisons, but the state has done it quietly with no public discourse and no real debate or discussion. That’s because they’ve filled all of our county jails.”
If elected, Griffin said he intends to work with lawmakers to have a new prison facility built.
“I’m also going to share things with our lawmakers about how to put some meat on the bones in sentencing,” he said. “We need to ensure individuals are serving a higher percentage of time for violent crimes.”
Gibson agrees that a new prison should be built.
“The head of the Correctional Service and the heads of all these other agencies are asking for this because it is necessary,” he said. “I support prison expansion. But we also have to do these other things, like education and vocational training.”
Gibson said building a new prison is a short-term solution.
“If you don’t focus on the demand-side problem or the solution by reducing the number of people going into the correctional facility, then you’re dealing with the supply-side solution of adding more beds,” he said.
After the US Supreme Court issued the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion across the country, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge introduced a “trigger law” in 2019 that bans abortions in Arkansas except to save the mother’s life in a medical emergency.
Law 180 of 2019 was designed to take effect when the attorney general confirmed that Roe had been overthrown and returned the power to the state to ban abortion.
Gibson said the only thing he hears on the campaign trail, no matter where he goes, is contempt for the abortion ban.
“They are angry at the idea that our legislators, our leaders in this state, have passed trigger legislation that creates government-ordered forced pregnancy even for victims of rape and incest,” Gibson said. “People think it’s just inhumane that we as a state go so far as to have a government-ordered forced pregnancy that sometimes even affects children.”
Griffin said he’s always been an anti-abortionist, but he also believes in exceptions to rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Griffin said he opposes the recreational marijuana change because he believes it will hurt job hiring.
“How can we apply for these jobs and at the same time let more people smoke,” he said.
Griffin said from what he’s seen, it doesn’t seem like people looking to smoke marijuana have trouble finding it.
Gibson said that as attorney general, he would have to enforce the law that’s on the books, but overall he believes legalizing recreational marijuana is the direction the country is headed.
“One of the biggest problems we have, I see, is that too many leaders are revisionists, looking back to a time they claim they remember or imagine or believe existed, rather than into the future to look at,” he said. “I think that’s the direction the country is going, and in terms of budgeting, developing education programs and health programs, I think it would be wise to consider the value of that.”
Gibson said legalizing marijuana would also relieve law enforcement officials.
“This will allow for a greater focus on violent crime than on non-violent, small-scale crime,” he said. “It frees up resources and allows them to be really tough on crime and have these safe streets and schools.”