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Griffith Likes to Go His Way, Even if It’s Odd

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Freshman Rep. Morgan Griffith is adjusting to life as a backbencher in Congress after serving as Majority Leader in the Virginia House of Delegates. Still, he’s among the group making life harder for GOP leaders by holding the line on spending and the debt ceiling.

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There's the Roanoke Times front page declaring his defeat of then-Rep. Rick Boucher (D) by 5 points, one of the earliest races called on election night and one that signaled Democrats were about to be swept from power in a wave.

On the wall not far from three Winston Churchill books and a copy of "Atlas Shrugged" is a caricature of the British journalist John Wilkes. In 1768 Wilkes had enraged King George III, who used general warrants to search every home to find the printing press. The way Griffith tells it, the incident led the new U.S. government to require search warrants with a specific reasoning, and Wilkes' fight is one reason he opposed the USA PATRIOT Act extension: "The Founding Fathers would never have wanted us to go so far."

He's one of the Capitol Hill office dwellers.

"It's not the most comfortable accommodation," Griffith admitted, gesturing to the black leather couch that doubles as a bed on nights the House holds votes. "I'm perfectly fine with the floor, but it was a little dusty."

The four-hour drive home isn't an option, and he can try to make his children's lives "a little more normal" instead of getting an apartment in Washington, D.C. "I just couldn't justify spending $2,000 for a place to live for what is essentially nine nights a month, so here I am," Griffith said.

He sometimes looks like a man who sleeps in his office. He's a little red-faced, with tussled patches of graying hair. His simple blue suit is coupled with a salmon-colored striped tie that could have been purchased in 1987 when he was chairman of the Salem Republican Party.

It's on the couch at night, under the elephant-print wall tapestry he picked up on a trip to Indonesia, that Griffith hunkers down to read legislation. He said he was annoyed when he found a specific "buy American" provision that would cost his district jobs buried in a 900-page bill. "By the time I found it, it was too late to do amendments," he said.

Big Fan of Bats

Griffith is a little, well, odd.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said that when the two served together as Delegates, Griffith's colleagues knew his hobbies were more unusual than most.

"Sitting in caves in Bangladesh looking at bats is not what I like to do in my free time," McDonnell said in a phone interview. "He sent me a card when he was traveling in some country with some pictures of bats and I thought, 'Well, this is a little different.' But as they would say, that's Morgan."

The whole getting-married-in-a-cemetery thing has been blown out of proportion, Griffith said.

He and his wife, Hilary, had just an 80-day courtship before tying the knot in 2005. They wanted a small, private affair, but when he and his future father-in-law surveyed Lake Spring Park the day before the wedding, they found "a roving band of seagulls, ducks and geese" leaving droppings all over the "cute little bridge" for the ceremony.

"I said to her dad, 'I know this other spot that's really pretty,'" he said, grinning.

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