Durham businessman Kevin Griffin is the outsider among the Democratic primary candidates for U.S. Senate – the only one of four contenders who has never run for office before.
In a year when voters back anti-establishment candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Griffin views his lack of political experience as an asset.
“We continue to send the lifelong politicians to D.C., and we’re not getting anything for it,” Griffin said, adding that his experience running a small business would be a good fit in Congress.
“You have to be able to work with the widest range of people and backgrounds,” he said. “It’s also understanding how regulations from the federal and state level affect small businesses.”
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Griffin said he’s the only Democratic candidate who doesn’t have baggage from past campaigns and political decisions. He says the Republican nominee in the race, where Sen. Richard Burr is running for re-election, would have difficulty crafting attack ads against him.
“If he is running against me, he’s going to have to run for himself,” Griffin said of Burr. “He has to run on his own record, and I think that’s where he’s the weakest.”
Griffin decided to take the plunge into politics last fall after hearing that Democrats were struggling to recruit a top-tier candidate such as Kay Hagan or Anthony Foxx to run against Burr.
“I kept hearing on the radio and in other places how Richard Burr was raising all this money, and no one was stepping up to challenge him,” Griffin said.
Griffin put $12,000 into a campaign account and hired staff to work out of his company’s Durham office. Since 2002, he has owned and operated AVANT Group LLC, a five-employee firm that matches temporary workers with companies, generally with the potential for a permanent job.
Griffin has posted detailed policy proposals on his campaign website – some of which are inspired by problems he has faced running a business.
He says he supports the “intent” of the Affordable Care Act, and he wants to tweak the health care law to make it easier on businesses.
“As a small business owner, it has been a nightmare to deal with because of the constantly changing regulations,” he said. “The first area that we have to address is how Affordable Care works in the business community. When we do that, we will see a flood of more companies coming to the program.”
Griffin wants to make federal government contracts pay companies on a faster schedule, a change he says will help smaller businesses compete with their larger counterparts for contracts. “The government doesn’t get any advantage by holding onto that money,” he said.
Like his primary opponents, Griffin wants to increase the federal minimum wage, but he says the exact amount should differ based on local economic conditions. In Durham, he’s been involved with a living wage group that pegs the local target at $11.05 per hour for workers without benefits and $12.53 for those with benefits.
“It’s important to make sure that the wage rate is continually automatically adjusted,” he said.
Griffin said the federal loans for college tuition should have a zero-percent interest rate once a student has graduated, secured a job and agreed to automatic payroll deductions for the debt. “Our investment is in the education,” he said. “We don’t need to make money off the loan.”
For military veterans transitioning to civilian life, Griffin wants to expand the GI Bill to give veterans a yearlong paid internship with a local company. “That creates great economic activity for areas around the base,” he said.
While Griffin ranked third among his competitors in campaign funds on Jan. 1, he has been traveling across the state to spread his message. “We’re running a race for an election, not a contest for raising money,” he said.
Education: Bachelor’s degrees in management and marketing and information systems, UNC Greensboro
Professional experience: President and CEO, AVANT Group LLC, a Durham staffing firm, since 2002
Political/civic resume: Has worked with Durham Living Wage Project, Dress for Success, Hiring our Heroes and Step Up Ministries
Family: Divorced with a 16-year-old son