Ten years before Donald Trump became president, Couy Griffin traveled across the country for a different master.
Griffin used to be a street preacher with a style all his own. Two animals, a horse named Daisy and a miniature mule called Black Jack helped Griffin publicize his tours.
“Cowboy gallops for God,” read a headline in an Indiana newspaper. Another in Ohio said, “Preacher spreads the good word on horseback.”
Griffin drew an audience by riding Daisy on city streets. His little mule tagged along, carrying copies of the Book of John.
Griffin, 46, still knows a thing or two about making headlines, but now they are political. Many are bad, at least in his eyes.
He’s an Otero County commissioner who founded Cowboys for Trump. Griffin stirred controversy by incorporating his organization as a private business instead of a political action committee.
He rides a horse to state capitals and any other town with a pulse to kick up support for the president.
Griffin, a Republican, won’t disclose how much money he collects or spends through Cowboys for Trump.
New Mexico’s Democratic secretary of state, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, says he’s circumventing laws on political organizations.
A more heated controversy enveloped Griffin this week after video surfaced of him making a speech in Truth or Consequences.
“I’ve come to a place where I’ve come to the conclusion that the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,” Griffin said, drawing cheers from his audience.
Perhaps sensing trouble, Griffin softened his next words.
“I don’t say that in the physical sense, and I can already see the videos being edited where it says I want to go murder Democrats. No, I say that in the political sense, because the Democrat agenda and policy is anti-American right now.”
I asked Griffin if he regretted what he said.
“Could I have used different verbiage? Absolutely. I could have said the only good Democrat policy is a dead Democrat policy. I did try to clear up the water by saying I didn’t mean it in the physical sense.”
Formerly the pastor of a church in Alamogordo and the proprietor of a barbecue restaurant, Griffin says he dislikes his new profession of politics. He portrays himself as a victim of mean and false attacks.
“This is the nastiest, dirtiest, most slanderous place I have ever seen,” he said of political office. “I’m the target of lies and slander, horrible slander. There’s no uproar from the left over that.”
Griffin’s critics call him an inefficient county commissioner who stoops to underhanded and secretive practices.
Jeff Swanson, who chairs Otero County’s Democratic Party, is suing Griffin on grounds the commissioner violated open-records
laws. Griffin posted public records on his Facebook page, then blocked residents he didn’t like.
Swanson is represented by attorney A. Blair Dunn, who’s run for public office as a Republican and a Libertarian.
“Commissioner Griffin has responded to such criticism from Mr. Swanson and other constituents expressing concern with hostility and unprofessionalism,” Dunn said.
Griffin calls the lawsuit “bogus” and describes himself as the aggrieved party.
“I’m not going to discuss it any detail, but I will say I’ve given them everything they’ve asked for,” Griffin told me.
Has he blocked anyone on social media?
“Who hasn’t blocked people when all they do is harass you?” Griffin said.
Swanson sees Griffin as a politician with one exceptional talent and many flaws.
“I’ve told him he’s one of the most genius marketers I’ve ever seen,” Swanson said.
The same formula Griffin used as an evangelical preacher works well in politics.
As king of the cowboys, Griffin generates as much publicity for himself as he does for Trump.
In one his battles against logic and reason, Griffin also claims Cowboys for Trump is a nonpolitical business, even as it promotes the president for reelection.
Griffin insists the only business of Cowboys for Trump is championing what’s good for America.
“The reason why I don’t want it to be a [tax-exempt] (c)(3) is I don’t want to be censored,” Griffin said. “You have to account for money, what you take in and what you spend, and there are guidelines on what you can say in those (c)(3)s.”
His arguments are as flimsy as they are convoluted. Political Action Committees hurl political attacks as regularly as the sun rises. He just doesn’t like the idea of revealing how Cowboys for Trump generates and spends money.
Griffin lists himself as manager of Cowboys for Trump. Yet he couldn’t say why its principal place of business is listed as Santa Fe but its mailing address is in Spokane, Wash.
Griffin said his sister, Kay, filled out the paperwork. She is listed as organizer of Cowboys for Trump.
Toulouse Oliver’s challenge to Griffin’s claim that he is running a business was supposed to be heard in February by an arbitrator. Griffin asked for a delay. The case has stalled since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The biggest ride Cowboys for Trump ever made also is a source of controversy.
Griffin traveled to Washington in September. He took along his horse, and a posse joined him on a ride from Cumberland, Md., to the White House.
Griffin snagged an audience with President Donald Trump, then submitted a voucher for more than $3,200 in expenses to the Otero County government. All his talk with Trump centered on county business, Griffin said.
An examination of Griffin’s travel voucher is “open and ongoing,” said a spokeswoman for State Auditor Brian Colón.
Griffin said he would resign from office only if someone presented him with a valid reason.
He’s back in the saddle, but the preaching is not nearly so fun for him as the old days. Back then, with a horse, a mule and the Book of John, he always wore the white hat.