HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Parker Griffith is back on the political scene. He's running for governor as a Democrat, although he stressed to WHNT News 19 he is an independent thinker.
Griffith joined us for this week's edition of Leadership Perspectives, our in-depth segment on issues and newsmakers in the Tennessee Valley.
The first question on our minds, and probably yours - Dr. Griffith, why are you running?
"I've had an opportunity and privilege to be an Alabamian, be a physician and businessman here, and I've had an opportunity and privilege to see what we need in Alabama," said Griffith. "I've seen the health care system fail so many of our Alabama citizens. I've seen our educational system need help that's not coming, and I want to be the governor of Alabama because I know I can make a change, a difference for the better."
Just a few months ago Griffith said he was done with both parties and he was an independent - on this very program. We asked him to explain why he's changed that label again.
"It's easy for me to explain it, because I've always been a very independent individual," said Griffith. "As a cancer specialist, you have to be independent - you've got to be an independent thinker, and you've got to do what's right at the time for the patient. So, I didn't put on either party's jersey, so to speak. I didn't listen to the bosses. I'm not a good politician, I've never aspired to be a politician. I want to be helpful to the people of Alabama. So, I felt like I could make a difference. So, when I was approached, I felt like I could step in. I think I've prepared myself to be governor, and the Democrats welcomed me back. I've learned alot, I'm wiser for it, and all in all, I think this is going to be a very successful campaign and it's going to be about the people and what we can do for them. Not so much about me, but what we're going to do, and how we're going to change."
We asked Griffith if he thought his changing parties several times would hurt his chances with the voters.
"People will say neither party has been helpful to them," Griffith replied.
"I think they're going to see an independent person here," he added. "Now, I'm not a good politician - so maybe a good politician wouldn't have done that, but I'm not one. I'm a cancer specialist, I'm a businessman, and I'm all about results, and not party labels."
"The people of Alabama like a choice. There are issues that make me different [from Governor Robert Bentley] and clearly define me," said Griffith. "We're both doctors, neither one of us are going to take a salary."
We asked him to repeat that. "So, you're not going to take a salary?" WHNT News 19's Steve Johnson asked. "No, of course not!" Griffith replied.
Griffith explains why he is running in a letter on his website, griffithforgovernor.com. He doesn't hesitate to take shots at Governor Bentley, the Republican incumbent.
"We're 49th in job creation. We had a great day yesterday with Remington -- a great day. But we're 49th in job creation. Only Alaska is worse," said Griffith. "So we've got a lot of work to do in Alabama, and the people know that. The people are suffering here - from healthcare, education, and job creation - and we're not doing it. I'm gonna do it. I'm going to make a difference."
On his website, he doesn't mince words about his opponent.
"Robert Bentley is a nice guy, but he is not a brave man," Griffith's letter reads. "Bentley has failed Alabama. I won’t."
We asked him to explain that statement.
"He's afraid of the TEA party. He's afraid of outside money -- the big money. He's afraid of his own legislature. He's afraid of the Speaker of the House, he's afraid of the Senate leader -- they're controlled by fringe element TEA parties and they're not talking about Alabama people," said Griffith. "Bentley knows better. Gov. Bentley knows better. He knows he should have expanded Medicaid. His own university (UAB) - his own healthcare scientists at his university are telling him it's the right thing to do, and he had to refer to them as a group of 'bogus studies.' We know better than that. The reason he's not doing it is he's afraid of the TEA party. He's afraid of his own party, so he's really a captive in his own office there, and that's not brave."
"Because when you deny early diagnosis - when you keep someone from the doctor - when you can make an early diagnosis and prevent a death, or prevent an illness, or short-circuit an illness, you're really harming your own people. And we've got the ability to do that. It's an existing law - we're not having to rely on the federal government for this. It's a law. We can take advantage of the law."
"Now, I voted against the Affordable Care Act," Griffith added. "I stood up to the party I was in, and said it's the wrong thing to do, you're making a promise you can't keep, and I had a major confrontation. But there are parts of that law that are good. And a good businessman - a good leader - sees what's good, uses what's good for the benefit of his people and rejects the rest or changes the rest. But Medicaid expansion is good for Alabama, and we're going to do it when I'm governor."
We also asked Griffith about the debate over Common Core.
"The concept of the Common Core is a very good idea. Preparing our children for the global future, making sure they're able to take college courses when they get there," said Griffith. "We have so many kids coming out of high schools in Alabama and they go to college and they're taking remedial math, remedial English - they're learning how to do things they should have learned in high school. We're trying to prevent that from happening. Now, are teachers prepared for Common Core? Was it rolled out correctly?
Should it have been done better? Yes."
"Our state school board are people we elect to be experts in education. It will be interesting to see how they modify Common Core for Alabama. Common Core is not universal in the United States. Every state is going to have its own version of Common Core," Griffith added.
The campaign itself -- it won't be cheap. Governor Bentley has about $3 million to spend. We asked Griffith if he can compete with that.
"We don't have to compete on money. Governor Bentley does not want to expand Medicaid. Governor Bentley does not want an education lottery. I do. We're going to have that," Griffith replied.
"By expanding Medicaid, not only is it good for the health of our people -- it creates 30,000 jobs. It creates 15 times the number of jobs created by Remington. How can a governor brag on 2,000 when he turned down 30,000?"
Griffith is running as a Democrat in a red state. How can he overcome that, we asked?
"The people of Alabama are very smart. Regardless of their level of education, they have good common sense," said Griffith. The Republicans are going to try to make this about Obama. He's a very unpopular President. I confronted Obama when I was a Democrat, I confronted the Republicans when I was a Republican. They know I'm an independent thinker, and I'm going to do what's best for them."
"Now, where do we go from there? The people are not necessarily Republican or Democrat. They're really about their kitchen table and their children. Is the education lottery going to help their children? Is the education lottery going to make their future brighter? The answer to that is yes. They're going to say yes. I don't care what he's doing or who he is, I want my children educated and I want my kitchen tables healthy. That's where they're gonna go," Griffith said.
"I want Medicaid expanded. Not only is it going to create 30,000 jobs, it's going to increase the gross domestic product in Alabama enormously," Griffith continued. "It's a huge job creator, not to mention a young woman who needs a mammogram, a child that needs his tooth fixed so he can go to school, not to mention a mother that wakes up with a child in the middle of the night with a bellyache that won't go to the ER because she doesn't have a Medicaid card. All of those issues transcend money, and they transcend politics. We are sick to death of politics in America. It's dysfunctional, it's not helping anyone - as a matter of fact, we saw our government shut down because of a bunch of brats in Washington - Republican and Democrat - spoiled rotten - took their ball and bat and went home, poked their lip out, twirled their hair and they quit on America. I don't want a part of that. I want to get something done for Alabama and I know how to do it."