Rolf Parker Griffith Jr.
A physician by training, Rolf Parker Griffith Jr. (1942- ) represented Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District from 2009 to 2011 and made an unsuccessful run for governor in 2014 against Robert Bentley. Considered a conservative Democrat, he switched to the Republican Party while in Congress but then ran as a Democrat for governor.
Known as Parker, Griffith was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on August 6, 1942, to Rolf Parker Griffith and Helen Buford Griffith; he has two siblings. He attended Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois, from 1962 to 1964 and then finished his studies at Louisiana State University in 1966, earning a bachelor of science degree. After graduating, he taught seventh-grade math at T. H. Harris Junior High School in Metairie, Louisiana, prior to entering medical school. He then earned a medical degree with honors from Louisiana State University (LSU), Baton Rouge, in 1970. That same year, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve, serving from 1970 to 1973 as a medical officer while also training in radiation oncology at LSU’s hospital in New Orleans. Afterwards, he and his brother Tom, also a doctor, moved to Huntsville, Madison County, to establish the Huntsville Cancer Treatment Center, the first facility of its kind in Alabama. He specialized in radiation oncology. He left the practice in 1992 to pursue a career in the funeral home business.
Griffith made his first foray into Alabama politics when he ran for mayor of Huntsville in 2004. Despite being a political novice, he received enough votes to force a runoff but lost to incumbent mayor Loretta Spencer. Two years later, he ran successfully for the Alabama State Senate, defeating Republican Cheryl Baswell-Guthrie in November 2006 in part by supporting universal health care. In 2008, Griffith ran for the Fifth Congressional District held by the retiring nine-term Democrat Robert “Bud” Cramer, who endorsed Griffith; he won by four percentage points. The district encompasses Colbert, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, and Jackson Counties, and parts of Morgan County and overwhelming supported the Republican presidential candidate, Arizona senator John McCain. Griffith joined the conservative Democrat Blue Dog Coalition, and voted against his party’s efforts to counter pay discrimination, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (named for the Alabamian). Griffith also voted against the $825 billion economic stimulus package proposed by Pres. Barack Obama that passed with overwhelming Democratic support; he then voted in favor of a smaller stimulus bill.
Several months later, Griffith was persuaded by Republicans to switch parties and did so on December 22, 2009. He was the first Republican to represent the district since John Benton Callis in the Reconstruction Era. Griffith cited his displeasure with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Democratic policies he thought were fiscally irresponsible, particularly health-care reform legislation then moving through Congress. He also disapproved when the United States canceled a missile shield program for Eastern Europe, which was harmful to the aerospace industry in his district. Most of his staff resigned and he joined the Republican Study Committee. He later was appointed by the Republican leadership to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and also served on its several subcommittees. He joined with Republicans to oppose the Affordable Care Act, Pres. Obama’s signature health care reform plan that was widely supported by Democrats, and later introduced legislation to repeal it. On more general issues, Griffith opposed affirmative action, increased taxes on the wealthy, sustainable energy, marriage equality, unrestricted abortions, stronger environmental laws, free trade, and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. He has opposed restrictions on gun ownership and favored stronger laws to counter illegal immigration, including tightening citizenship qualifications, and more military spending.
Despite Griffith’s about-face, he was rejected by voters in the 2010 Republican Primary. He received a third of the vote, whereas Madison County Commissioner Morris “Mo” Brooks garnered 51 percent and later won the general election. Two years later, Griffith again challenged Brooks but lost by more than 40 percentage points. Some supporters suggested he run for the Fifth District seat in 2014 as an independent, but Griffith declined. Instead, he attempted a political comeback as a member of the Democratic Party in that year’s gubernatorial race against the incumbent Republican, Robert Bentley, also a physician. Griffith campaigned in favor of establishing a state lottery to help fund public education and expanding the state’s Medicaid program, also highlighting job losses and rising unemployment in Alabama. He opposed the Alabama Accountability Act, which provides tax credits for public school students and low-income students wishing to attend private schools and a recently enacted immigration law that mandated public school officials check the immigration status of students and allowed local authorities to question individuals suspected of being in the country illegally. Griffith received some union endorsements but lost to Bentley 64 percent to 36 percent. Griffith is married and has five children.