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Clark v. Griffith in run-off: the PT Boat against the Battleship

The run-off election for Lubbock’s District Three Council seat will showcase a classic political match-up between two non-incumbents whose governing philosophies are not dissimilar but whose personalities are quite different. The outcome of the race hinges on intangible elements voters can’t quite put their fingers on but will nevertheless influence their vote.

Deanne Clark, a virtual fixture at Lubbock City Council meetings, eats city budget figure spread sheets, committee reports and council meeting minutes as snacks with her morning coffee. Clark also utilizes a formidable kitchen cabinet of like-minded budget hawks who know where just about every nickel is spent (or not) by the city, sometimes before the checks are actually written.
Clark’s opponent, popular small business owner Jeff Griffith, is a serious and successful entrepreneur who found himself mid-way through the election having to defend himself against accusations that he was bought and paid for by special interests, with a local builders group here in West Texas being fingered as the culprit. Griffith returned fire through a series of fairly hard hitting broadcast and print ads — but as he did so, Griffith’s distraction with the issue allowed Clark running room down the field. Griffith’s neutralization of local barber Maurice Stanley’s momentum – a neutralization some saw as a bit heavy handed — could foreseeably have repercussions on a Stanley endorsement of either candidate, with one real possibility that Stanley doesn’t make an endorsement one way or the other.

While District Three isn’t a tremendously huge district, it is a fairly densely populated one, with long-time Lubbockites inhabiting the homes found along neat and orderly streets. While expansion in Southwest Lubbock continues to garner more than its share of press and attention, the relatively modest home prices and generous-size back yards in District Three are home to both young families and tried and true old time “Hubsters” who have seen it all before.  They don’t begrudge their neighbors across the Loop south of town, and quite frankly, are happy their neighborhoods are not morphing into a Scottsdale-style suburb as is happening south of 98th Street. District Three residents like the 1950 and 1960 feel of their neighborhoods. Neighbors know each other’s names, their kids and pets names, and could care less if a Range Rover or a F-150 is in the driveway next door.

Clark found her style of retail politics works very well in these neighborhoods. Residents saw her almost every week during the campaign walking the precincts, knocking on doors. She spoke clearly, candidly and did so with conviction. Clark was adamant about her fiscal responsibility message regarding city operations. Spending needs to stop and accountability needs to become a standard practice among City officials – not just a buzz word. City budgets are complex and confusing but Clark appears to have cracked the code of why the City finds itself well over a billion dollars in debt and if elected, the era of green eye shades will begin in Lubbock City Government.

Griffith is a successful and engaging small business owner who approached the campaign as he would a business proposition – methodically and organized. While those two traits are important to politics, Griffith suffered somewhat from a perceived lack of personality, appearing a tad bit disconnected from the troubling budget inequities City government faces. While no one likes a Chicken Little approach, voters may have found Griffith’s plain vanilla demeanor not exactly inspiring.

Now that it’s half time, Griffith will re-evaluate his message and tactics. As the run-off campaign begins, Clark will continue her peripatetic style of campaigning. Go in fast, go in often and head on to the next campaign stop or neighbor’s house to press the doorbell – keep moving. In Griffith’s case, perhaps the candidate will consider that bigger isn’t necessarily better, that more money doesn’t necessarily mean more votes and that finding a common bond with the electorate is extremely important. Griffith may need to abandon his battleship for a smaller, more maneuverable vessel to take on Clark’s PT-Boat type of campaign.

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