Guest Essayist: The Honorable Tim Griffin


The twenty-fifth state to be admitted, Arkansas formally joined the United States on June 15, 1836, and was the ninth state to secede from the Union. Its current constitution, adopted in 1874, is the fifth used in the state’s history.

Arkansas’s march to admission to the Union had its roots in two of the most powerful movements of the nineteenth century: the sectional crisis and the rise of Jacksonian Democracy. By 1835, a special census revealed that Arkansas, at over 52,000 residents, met the minimum population requirements (40,000) for admission to the Union.[1] Two variables complicated this process. First, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 established the principle of slave and free states coming into the Union in pairs, in order to maintain the balance of power in the Senate. Secondly, statehood advocates sought to have Arkansas admitted in advance of the 1836 presidential election, to give the Democrats a further advantage at the polls. It was understood that Michigan, a free state, would be paired with Arkansas, but the Whig Party in Congress sought to delay what would be the admission of two Democratic-leaning states.[2] Also at home, many Arkansans were wary of the idea of statehood, particularly those who had questions about the still largely frontier territory’s financial strength.[3] But the proclamation by the editor of the Arkansas Advocate that statehood would give Arkansans “The rights and rank to which we are entitled,”[4] carried the day, and President Andrew Jackson signed the statehood bill into law on June 15, 1836.

In the state’s early years, it struggled economically because of its still predominately violent frontier image and the failure of an ill-conceived state-supported banking system that left debilitating debts and even more suspicion of government involvement in the economy.[5] Economically, Arkansas was divided into small subsistence farms in its mountainous north and upper west and large slave-based plantation agriculture to its south and east. Politically, the state’s governmental life was controlled by the Democratic Party, which was in turn controlled by a group known as “The Family,” that coalesced around the Conway, Rector, and Sevier families.[6] The Civil War and Reconstruction would lead to huge upheavals, as wartime destruction and the rise of a Republican Party led by northerners who had remained south after the war led to struggles over matters such as civil rights, education, and economic modernization. After this period, Arkansas would still remain predominately agrarian for almost another century, heavily dependent on a one-crop cotton based economy. Other products such as timber, rice, oil, and natural gas were developed in the postwar years, but were most often sent out of state for processing until World War II. After the war, Arkansas embarked on a broad program of economic diversification led by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, and expanded by home-grown entrepreneurs such as Don Tyson, Sam Walton, and Charles Morgan.

As mentioned earlier, Arkansas is governed under its 1874 constitution, which is its fifth since statehood, and commonly known as the “Thou Shalt Not” document.[7] It reflected the general suspicion of government power that had been prevalent in the state since entering the Union. Most of these revisions placed into the document were highly restrictive and negative in nature.[8] County governments became more powerful as administrative units of the state, with jurisdiction over roads and bridges, local judiciary, and taxation and spending. The state’s powers to tax and borrow were severely limited, the terms of elected officials were reduced from four years to two years (changed to four years by a constitutional amendment in 1984), the number of elected county officials was increased from two to ten, and the legislative sessions were biennial, limited to sixty days. The governor’s power was greatly reduced, and executive power was divided between seven constitutional officers. Vetoes could be overridden by a simple majority, and much authority transferred from state to county government. Some modernization of government has taken place in the postwar era, most notably two reorganization bills in 1971 and 2019 that consolidated and reorganized state agencies, boards, and commissions into a smaller number of executive departments. Term limits for constitutional officers and the legislature were first enacted in 1992,[9] and some of the document’s more stringent provisions, such as a strict limit on interest rates and state borrowing authority, have been modified in recent years.

After the end of Republican Reconstruction, Arkansas joined its sister Southern states into the Democratic “Solid South,” and the state was one of the last to transition into a two-party system in the modern era. Arkansas’s reputation took a beating after the Central High desegregation crisis of 1957, and gradually, reformers from both parties exerted more influence on state policy by the 1970s and 1980s. The Republican Party in Arkansas began to slowly gain ground beginning in the 1980s, but was slowed by the election of former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton’s election to the Presidency in 1992. By 2014, the Republican Party had arrived in full force with the first full Republican sweep in the state since 1872, and the dawning of a new era.

Tim Griffin grew up in Magnolia, a fifth-generation Arkansan and the youngest son of a minister and teacher. He was elected lieutenant governor of Arkansas on November 4, 2014, and was re-elected for his second four-year term on November 6, 2018. He is focused on growing jobs through aggressively pursuing economic development, more parental choice in education and boldly reforming state government. For 2019, he is serving as Chairman of the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association (RLGA).

From 2011-2015, Griffin served as the 24th representative of Arkansas’s Second Congressional District. For the 113th Congress, he was a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means while also serving as a Deputy Whip for the Majority.  In the 112th Congress, he served as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the House Committee on Ethics and the House Committee on the Judiciary. He also served as an Assistant Whip for the Majority.  In Congress, he advocated for bold tax reform and entitlement reform to grow jobs and reduce the national debt.

During the Bush Administration, in 2006-2007, Griffin served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas and previously as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Political Affairs for President George W. Bush at the White House.

Griffin has served as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, for over 22 years and currently holds the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was recently selected for promotion to colonel. In 2005, Griffin was mobilized to active duty as an Army prosecutor at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in Mosul, Iraq, for which he was awarded the Combat Action Badge.  He is currently serving as a senior legislative advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness at the Pentagon. In July 2018, Lieutenant Governor Griffin, in his capacity as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Reserve, received his master’s degree in strategic studies as a Distinguished Graduate from the United States Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

Tim is active in the community.  He currently serves on the board of Our House shelter for the working homeless and previously served on the boards of the Florence Crittenton Home for unwed mothers and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas.

He graduated from Magnolia High School, Hendrix College in Conway and Tulane Law School in New Orleans and attended graduate school at Oxford University in England. His wife Elizabeth is from Camden, and they currently live in Little Rock with their three children, Mary Katherine, John, and Charlotte Anne. They are members of Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock.

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[1] Jeannie M. Whayne, Thomas A. DeBlack, George Sabo III, and Morris S. Arnold, Arkansas: A Narrative History (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2013), 128.

[2] Ibid., 129.

[3] Ken Bridges, “Marking the 180th anniversary of Arkansas statehood.” Log Cabin Democrat, June 11, 2016. (Accessed May 30, 2019)

[4] Whayne,, Arkansas: A Narrative History, 131.

[5] S. Charles Bolton, Arkansas 1800-1860: Remote and Restless (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998), 50.

[6] Thomas A. DeBlack, “The Family [Political Dynasty].” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, December 21, 2015. (accessed May 30, 2019)

[7] Michael B. Dougan, Arkansas Odyssey: The Saga of Arkansas from Prehistoric Times to Present (Little Rock: Rose Publishing Company, 1994), 268.

[8] Kay C. Goss, “Arkansas Constitutions.” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, December 3, 2018. (Accessed May 30, 2019)

[9] Whayne,, Arkansas: A Narrative History, 463.


1 reply
  1. Publius Senex Dassault
    Publius Senex Dassault says:

    Tim, your father was my Pastor in Magnolia until he returned to North Carolina. I remember you before and as you headed out to college.




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