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Griffin Quits

January 25, 1996
By: ELIZABETH MCKINLEY
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - After over 15 years of public service, former speaker Bob Griffin, D-Cameron, retired from Missouri House of Representatives Thursday morning.

Griffin, whose office is already almost bare, said he is anxiously looking forward to returning to the private sector.

He said he plans to return to practicing law and doing some consulting. "I'll hopefully capitalize nationally on the contacts that I've made," he said.

Griffin's reign as speaker is longer than any other person in Missouri history. And under the term limits legislators now face, nobody else would be able to even approach Griffin's record.

First elected on a platform that promised to reduce the powers of the speaker, Griffin found himself under attack in recent years by newer members who complained he had too much power. Ironically, Griffin was criticized in his first years as speaker for failing to use all the powers available to him to push legislation.

Griffin, who reigned as House Speaker for 15 years, encountered struggles along the way, but particularly during the last two legislative sessions.

Last year, he was almost ousted from his post by Minority Floor Leader Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, when Democrat dissidents crossed over to the Republicans.

This year, the House business was delayed a week as Democrats struggled to find a suitable candidate for speaker. Rep. Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, was elected as the new House speaker.

And even now, the former speaker is under federal investigation reportedly for ties to riverboat gambling.

In addition, some House members involved in last year's speaker campaign appeared before the federal grand jury. Although the federal investigation continues, Griffin was cleared by three state prosecutors, who investigated his activities at the request of Attorney General Jay Nixon.

But Griffin said some of the hardships he ran into was just part of politics.

"I think it was Harry Truman who said 'if you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen,'" Griffin said.

But Griffin didn't expect the speaker race to be as divided as it was.

"I didn't anticipate the kind of difficulty of getting organized for the transfer of leadership," he said.

And while Gaw might not have all the experience Griffin would like him to, the former speaker said his replacement would rise to the occasion.

"I'm pleased," Griffin said. "The results are certainly worth it."

Politics aside, even Richardson wished Griffin the best of luck as he left the House to join the private sector.

"Maybe you'll forget the bad times and remember the good times," Richardson said.

Griffin had added problems to this year's session. His wife underwent an emergency surgery the day the session convened. He said she was doing well and getting ready to undergo treatment.

But before Griffin left the House as a public servant, he was presented with his gavel. And the gavel's post has many marks.

"I thought they were going to give me some of the broken gavels. Sometimes the gavel would break or fly off," Griffin said.

But for now, Griffin's gavel will remain in one piece.

And his seat will be empty.