Leon Griffith

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Louis Leon Griffith

Born January 19, 1936
Almyra, Arkansas County
Arkansas, USA
Died July 13, 2010 (aged 74)
Pulaski County, Arkansas
Political Party A master plumber who was the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 1976
Spouse Not mentioned in obituary

Sherry Carlon
Toni Griffith
Tammy Griffith
Deborah Jennings
Three other daughters, Theresa, Shawna, and TiaLisa are omitted from the obituary.

Louis Leon Griffith (January 19, 1936 – July 13, 2010) was a master plumber[1] from North Little Rock, who was the Arkansas Republican gubernatorial nominee in 1976, losing the general election by a large margin to Democratic incumbent Governor David Hampton Pryor.

Griffith was born in Almyra, a small town in Arkansas Count in the eastern portion of the state. to the late Henry T. Griffith and the former Lennie Opal Golden, later Lennie Davis (1914–2008).[2]

1976 gubernatorial candidacy

Even after Griffith's entry into the gubernatorial race, reports surfaced that the GOP leadership had earlier approached former Democratic Governor Orval Eugene Faubus, who had lost to Pryor in the 1974 primary, about switching parties and running again for governor in the 1976 general election. The liberal Republican Ripon Society, which had supported former Republican Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, termed the suggestion, if true, "an ignominious end to the reform heritage" that the GOP had earlier championed in Arkansas. Faubus and Republican leaders denied that such talk ever even occurred.[3]

To make the race against Pryor, the GOP had recruited James E. "Jim" Lindsey (born 1944), an insurance broker then from Fayetteville and a former football player for the University of Arkansas and the Minnesota Vikings. Lindsay, however, filed as a Democrat and ran as a conservative against Pryor, under whom there had been a 20 percent increase in violent crime in Arkansas during 1975. After Lindsay declined the Republican offer, the party permitted Griffith to run as an essentially placeholder nominee.[4]

Before carrying the Republican banner, however, Griffith first had to defeat maverick Republican Joseph H. Weston of Cave City, the editor of the Sharp Citizen, a mimeographed newspaper that often criticized local and state officials for alleged political corruption. Weston, whose work had led to a change in Arkansas libel law,[5] embarrassed the GOP with his peculiar antics. He told a group of farmers that World War III had begun and that they should lay up provisions.[6] In 1974, Weston had opposed in the primary the Republican gubernatorial nominee, Ken Coon, whom Pryor, as a former U.S. Representative, had handily defeated in the general election that year. Griffith in 1976 polled 15,500 votes (59.5 percent) to Weston's 10,540 (40.5 percent).[7] The Griffith-Weston race drew more than four times the participation of the Coon-Weston primary two years earlier, a factor attributed to the presidential primary between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

During his campaign, Griffith relocated from Pine Bluff to North Little Rock. He complained about his lack of media coverage and small campaign coffers. At one point, Griffith threatened to withdraw from the race unless he received more funding from the party. He ultimately spent less than $10,000 on the race and depended almost entirely on the then small staff at state headquarters in Little Rock.[8]

Political legacy

Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, based in Washington, D.C., described the hopeless nature of both the Griffith and Ford campaigns in Arkansas:

"Ten years after Arkansas Republicans began their resurgence under the late Winthrop A. Rockefeller, they are back where they were before Rockefeller arrived on the scene. ... The GOP apparatus built by Rockefeller has self-destructed. Republicans have returned to their traditional role as the second party in a one-party state."[9]

In a large general election turnout in 1976, Griffith lost each of the seventy-five counties, having polled 121,716 votes (16.7 percent), more than the 3 percent minimum required for a Republican candidate to qualify automatically for the 1978 ballot.[10] Pryor prevailed with 605,083 votes (83.2 percent).

Griffith's showing was the worst for an Arkansas Republican since Jefferson W. Speck, then a young planter from Mississippi County in eastern Arkansas, polled only 12.6 percent in the 1952 race against Democrat Francis Cherry, Faubus' predecessor as governor.[11][12] President Ford received more than twice the votes polled in Arkansas by Griffith. He carried three counties and finished with 267,903 ballots (35 percent) to former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter's 498,604 ballots (65 percent).[11]

At the time of his death at the age of seventy-four, Griffith was residing in Hensley in Pulaski County. He was survived by four daughters, Sherrie Carlon of Fayetteville, Arkansas; Toni Griffith and Tammie Griffith, both of Roseburg, Oregon, and Deborah Jennings of Hensley, and a sister, Dorothy Herrod of Pine Bluff.[2]


  1. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, May 15, 1976, p. 1220.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Death of Leon Griffith, The Pine Bluff Commercial, July 13, 2010.
  3. Ripon Forum, XII (June 15, 1976), p. 2.
  4. CQWR, May 15, 1976, p. 1220.
  5. "Joseph H. Weston, Publisher of an Arkansas Newspaper", The New York Times, November 19, 1983. Retrieved on May 11, 2010. 
  6. CQWR, May 15, 1976, p. 1220; May 29, 1976, p. 1393.
  7. State of Arkansas, Secretary of State, Primary election returns, 1976.
  8. CQWR, October 9, 1976, p. 2756.
  9. CQWR, October 9, 1976, p. 2773.
  10. John Brummett (February 27, 2010). "Jim Keet returns . . . for governor?. Arkansasnews.com. Retrieved on May 12, 2010.
  11. 11.0 11.1 State of Arkansas, 1976 general election returns.
  12. Robert A. Diamond, ed., Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, Washington, D.C., 1975, p. 399.