Rep. Parker Griffith (D)
Alabama 5th District
The federal government long has had a hand in shaping the destiny of northern Alabama. In 1933, it created the Tennessee Valley Authority, which took the World War I federal munitions plant at Muscle Shoals on the unnavigable Tennessee River and built a series of dams to control flooding and to produce cheap hydroelectric power. This was backward country then. Poor white farmers scratched an existence out of hardscrabble land, were housed in shacks without electricity or running water, and lived off a diet that produced pellagra and rickets. The TVA was intended to showcase what an enlightened, generous federal government could do.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Then, after the Soviets put up Sputnik in 1957, the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville became the nation’s foremost missile development center. Huntsville, then a sleepy town huddled around a well-preserved, early-19th-century settlement, grew to become Alabama’s fourth-largest city. The first of the large U.S. ballistic missiles were developed here. On the grounds of Redstone, NASA built its Marshall Space Flight Center in the 1960s, and the Huntsville-Decatur area soon achieved high-tech critical mass. With leadership from Werner von Braun and other German engineers, Redstone and Marshall built Explorer 1, the first American orbiting satellite; the Mercury-Redstone vehicle that boosted astronaut Alan Shepard into suborbital flight; and the Saturn V rocket that sent man to the moon. In the 1970s, Marshall produced Skylab and developed the space shuttle’s main engines and solid-rocket boosters. The Boeing research center here has been a prime contractor for the space station. In 1990, it helped launch the Hubble Space Telescope. Boeing produces the Delta IV booster at its factory in Decatur. With the approaching retirement of the space shuttle, NASA expects that Marshall will help to prepare the next generation of space vehicles, including the Ares I rocket, which will launch future space missions into orbit. Recently, space-related jobs have evolved with a broader defense focus. In 2005, the Pentagon base-closing commission moved 1,800 jobs in the Missile Defense Agency from northern Virginia to Redstone. Huntsville also was the beneficiary of 1,600 jobs with the Army’s Materiel Command.
The 5th Congressional District of Alabama takes in most of the state’s TVA and space counties. TVA and the space program were primarily Democratic projects, and for years most voters here were staunch New Deal Democrats, liberal on economics and not much interested in race issues, like longtime Sen. John Sparkman, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 1952. But professional and technical people in the space business tend to combine high-tech and traditional values, and this made much of northern Alabama marginal-to-Republican country in the 1990s. The district has voted Republican for president since 1980, and has never elected a Republican to Congress. In 2008, John McCain won this district, 61%-38%.
Rep. Parker Griffith (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: Aug. 6, 1942, Shreveport, LA .
Education: LA St. U., B.A. 1966; LA St. U., M.D. 1970..
Family: Married (Virginia); 5 children.
Military career: VA Army Reserves, 1970-73.
Elected office: AL Sen., 2007-08.
Professional Career: Radiation oncologist, 1975-1992; small business owner, 1975-present.
The congressman from the 5th District is Parker Griffith, a Democrat elected in 2008. After being in office less than a year, Griffith decided to switch parties and become a Republican in late December 2009. He had been increasingly concerned about his re-election prospects in a district that has been trending to the GOP in recent years. Although he voted against the House Democrats’ health care reform bill, he faced angry opponents of the bill during the August congressional recess. And, his former seat in the state Legislature was captured by a Republican. Griffith is the first incumbent Democrat in the House to switch parties since Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., in 2004.
|Parker Griffith (D)||156,642||(51%)||($1,786,989)|
|Wayne Parker (R)||147,314||(48%)||($1,276,538)|
|Parker Griffith (D)||34,543||(90%)|
|David Maker (D)||3,874||(10%)|
Griffith graduated from Louisiana State University’s medical school in 1970 and became a radiation oncologist in northern Alabama. He practiced medicine at Huntsville Hospital and later founded a cancer treatment center. Griffith retired from medicine in 1992 and undertook several business projects. He also founded the Parker Griffith Family Foundation, which provides grants to local schools and other community organizations.
In 2004, Griffith ran for mayor of Huntsville, citing a decline in population and a lack of vision for the city. In a nonpartisan race, he forced incumbent Loretta Spencer into a runoff but lost by about 4,000 votes. Griffith ran for the state Senate two years later. He spent $400,000 of personal money, focused his campaign on providing better health insurance, and defeated attorney and Republican nominee Cheryl Guthrie. In the state Senate, Griffith sponsored a bill to establish a statewide trauma center, which passed in 2007.
When nine-term U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, a Democrat, announced his retirement in March 2008, Griffith decided to run for the seat, and the Democratic Party quickly coalesced around his candidacy. He defeated a single opponent in the Democratic primary, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee helped him with $678,000 in media in the general election. His opponent was Wayne Parker, a businessman who had twice unsuccessfully challenged Cramer in the 1990s. Griffith entered the race with better name recognition and more cash on hand than Parker, who had endured a tougher primary.
But Parker ran a tough campaign. The race turned into one of the most bitterly fought in the nation. Parker raised questions about Griffith’s professional credentials by disclosing documents from a 1987 peer review that accused Griffith’s cancer center of underdosing patients with radiation to protract their treatment and collect more in fees. Griffith called Parker’s attacks “a total distortion of the facts,” and said the negative peer review was revenge by hospital officials unhappy that Griffith had opened a competing cancer treatment center. Griffith accused Parker of becoming a Washington lobbyist to trade on the influence of his father-in-law, former Rep. Bill Archer of Texas, at the height of Archer’s power as the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the late 1990s. He referred to Parker in ads as “the lobbyist.”
Griffith narrowly prevailed 52%-48%. Over 10,000 ballots cast in the 5th District failed to select a candidate in this race or voted for a write-in candidate, a trend that some analysts said reflected voters’ unhappiness with the campaign’s nasty tone.
In Washington, Griffith was given seats on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Committee on Science and Technology, and the Small Business Committee.