Nevadan at Work: Out of government, into consulting but still political

Josh Griffin is a self-described “political junkie” who has managed political races since college, including both of his dad’s runs to be mayor of Reno. His father, Jeff Griffin, was a two-term mayor of The Biggest Little City in the World from 1995 to 2003.

The younger Griffin worked on the late Gov. Kenny Guinn’s campaign in 1998 before he moved to Green Valley in 1999 to run Jon Porter’s campaign for congress. Then, inspired by his experiences, Griffin ran for and won a seat in the Nevada state Assembly in 2002. He served one term.

After his political career, Griffin became a full-time lobbyist. He now represents MGM Resorts International, Pfizer and the Southern Nevada Subcontractors Association through his company, Griffin Communications Group. During session he spends his days talking with politicos, researching the issues and playing basketball against elected officials.

When he’s not lobbying in Carson City or in meetings, Griffin spends time with his four children, whose initials he tattooed on his arm along with a Celtic cross on Father’s Day 2010.

“I was Father of the Year at my house,” Griffin said.

He’s a sports fanatic who loves playing fantasy football and exercises every day. He said the activity has enhanced his life.

“I probably feel better than I have in 10 years,” Griffin said.

Question: What was it like working for Gov. Kenny Guinn?

Answer: It was fantastic. Kenny Guinn was a great guy to work with and know. He was a really great man. I admired him from a couple of standpoints, but one is that he sort of got that the job of governor is that of a CEO of a state. I don’t mean that to say that other governors haven’t gotten that, I just mean that he got it better than all of them and understood the mechanics behind the budget, not just the politics behind the budget.

Question: What was it like working on Jon Porter’s campaign?

Answer: I described it as “the show.” I should disclose that it was the campaign he lost. He’s another great guy. I can tell you this, without a doubt, it was the only time that I had just been devoted to one campaign, just one candidate. Before, I had been with a firm and worked with multiple races. Being the campaign manager, it was one singular experience.

Question: What led you to run?

Answer: At the time, at the end of 2000, I had done that for seven straight years. Campaigns are … the only career where you’re sort of wishing your life away. There’s a series of deadlines in campaigns and campaigns are focused on those deadlines. It just sort of felt like … I was a little burnt out of the day-to-day grind of running political campaigns. In 2001, I spent a year in Carson City working for my friend who owned a lobbying firm. For the first time in my life, I felt like, “I get this.”

Question: What did you enjoy most about your time as an assemblyman?

Answer: I loved walking into chambers. They ring a bell and say the assembly is ready to convene. I had my folder with the bills that were coming up. Sometimes I knew what I was going to do and sometimes I didn’t. My favorite part was the fact that when you actually get into that final room and push the button, those are final decisions and they become policy. I really enjoyed that.

Question: What surprised you about that time?

Answer: I completely changed my outlook on politics and government. I found myself and the very entrenched partisan views that I once had, that I wasn’t as firm about those once I was serving in office. To just say you need to spend less on this or more on that or tax this person less or that person more, it’s easy to condense those into small sound bites … they can sell to a constituent or a voter. But in practice those affect people. There was no more black and white. There’s a lot of gray and I struggled with that a little bit.

Question: What was your least favorite aspect of serving?

Answer: I have pretty thick skin, so criticism didn’t bother me. Even though I knew what I was getting into, one thing that people don’t realize at all about politicians in Nevada, legislators in particular, is that they don’t get paid. You get paid almost nothing. I think a legislator makes about $8,000 during a session and they get a little bit of living expenses. I have four kids, my wife was staying home with them, and I was eating for two, so I had seven mouths to feed on $8,000. I almost went broke. If it weren’t for a few other smaller things that I was doing, I probably would have.

Question: You’re a partner with Imagine Marketing of Nevada. How does that play into your lobbying business?

Answer: The business of lobbying is communication. It’s small audiences, but my job is to help communicate and advocate between legislators and clients. While distinct from advertising, it is a similar business where you’re trying to communicate. (Imagine Marketing of Nevada founder) D.J. Allen and I have been friends for 10 years and it’s something we have slowly been working on. I have a minor interest in it now with discussions of expanding that. You know, if their clients have government-affairs needs, they have me to help sell and service that and if I have opportunities to get marketing needs on behalf of a client, I have them to help sell that. It’s a good combination and I think it’s going to get better over the next several years.

Question: What is your day like as a lobbyist when you’re in session?

Answer: I’m managing about eight or nine different issues for eight or nine different clients each day, so there’s no down time. It’s great for me, because I have ADD (attention deficit disorder), so what am I going to do? It’s literally a function of every morning, I make a little checklist and the 15 people I’m supposed to talk to and the topic I’m supposed to talk to them about. Somebody gave me really good advice one time and that good advice was, ‘Know the issues.’ I know the people, I know the process, but you really have to know the issues. I try to spend an hour or two each night really trying to understand what’s coming the next day. Know what the other side is up to.

Question: What issue is fascinating to you right now?

Answer: I have learned a lot about the history of foreign fuels and the history of domestic fuels and the technology that exists today to have a domestic, economic supply of fuel that you could get from agricultural products instead of from foreign oil. I’m lucky enough to try to lobby for an industry that is tiny in Nevada, but if we do some smart things we can actually create a new economy of independent energy, not only for the United States, but for Nevada. Nevada imports $6 million a year worth of fuel. Domestically, we produce virtually none.

Contact reporter Laura Emerson at
lemerson@lvbusinesspress.com or 380-4588.

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