Earlier this week, State Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, was chosen by the Senate Republican caucus to be the next Senate President Pro Tempore. His current role in the Senate is Majority Leader. If formally elected by the full Senate body, which Republicans control 23-9 at present, Hendren will succeed two-term Senate President Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy.
Hendren, 54, has served in the Arkansas House from 1995-1999. He returned to the legislature in the Arkansas Senate in 2013 through today. His father, Kim, is a State Representative who will retire this year. Hendren is also the nephew to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief Roby Brock caught up with Sen. Hendren for a conversation on leadership, priorities, and the new era of GOP dominance.
Roby Brock: How are you going to lead the Senate? Will it be a Republican agenda? Or will it be an ‘all-members’ agenda?
Sen. Jim Hendren: I view the role of President Pro Tempore different than the role of Majority Leader. My last four years, my objective, and I feel like my mission, has been to implement the Republican agenda in the Arkansas Senate, because I was the Majority Leader, and my job was not to worry about necessarily harmony. It was more to worry about getting a job done.
As President Pro Tempore, my job’s a little bit different. It’s to make sure that the Senate functions efficiently, the Senate maintains decorum. That we make sure that we protect the institution, and it’s certainly somewhat in tatters now because of some of the behavior that’s been going on the last few years. So, my first item is going to make sure that we do everything we can to protect the integrity of the Senate, and instill a culture of integrity and ethics.
Brock: Will that involve new rules? Will there be something else involved?
Sen. Hendren: There may be some new rules. I can tell you at a minimum there’ll be some significant training and orientation involved, particularly for new members, and really for all of us, about what we expect. About the ethical standards that will be expected of all of us. So, I expect during the orientation session, I’m going to do everything I can, particularly for the new members, because I do believe one of the things that’s gotten some members in trouble is they’ve been led astray by either special interests or by people who are willing to compromise their principles.
New members get the idea that this is just a way that business is done down here in Little Rock. In fact, I’ve been told that very thing when I was a new member. So I’m going to make sure that the new members understand coming into the Senate, the potential pitfalls, the traps that will be out there, and how we can avoid those. And that there will be consequences for, obviously, when we do screw up.
There’s going to be additional training, which the House has already done it, we’re going to have to make sure that we make all of our members aware that sexual assault, sexual harassment, will not be tolerated. Some of the behavior that used to be acceptable 30 or 40 years ago, just is not acceptable today.
We do it in the military every year. We’ve been doing it for 20 years in the military, and it’s produced results, and it has values. Again, I don’t want to go to extremes, but I think that there are some fundamental things that we’re going to do to try, as the Senate begins, to start getting us on the track of protecting the institution.
Brock: You and Governor Asa Hutchinson are obviously bonded by family. How might you handle a policy difference with the Governor to combat the critics that will say, “You’re just going to do his bidding”? You’re not always going to agree with him, are you?
Sen. Hendren: No, in fact, you don’t have to go much further back than this fiscal session to see where we’ve had policy disagreements. What I will do, and what I have done, is we’ll have our disagreements, and if we can’t work them out, they won’t be aired out on Twitter or on the front page of the paper. They’ll be aired out in his office. If we can’t agree, then he’ll do his thing and I’ll do mine.
I’ve also got a dad down here who I think votes the opposite of me half the time. So clearly, family loyalty takes second place to this bunch doing what we think is right. The governor knows that. He knows that I have a job to do, and I think most of the time our interests align, but there will be occasions when they don’t. That has happened in the past. We will agree to disagree, and we’ll see which policy prevails. But at the end of the day, we’ll continue to work together on the 90% of the things we agree on.
Brock: You both are always welcome to air your grievances on Talk Business & Politics if you want to. Last question: You’ve come a long ways from your “Shiite Republican” days and the Huckabee administration. Could you have ever imagined being the leader of the prestigious Senate chamber back in those days?
Sen. Hendren: Well, certainly not, because I think there were like seven Republicans in the Senate back in those days. I never thought that we would ever have a Republican leader, or I didn’t think it would certainly be in my lifetime. I guess I have to chuckle now when people want to call me part of the establishment because I really don’t think I’ve changed. It just kind of annotates the change in Arkansas.
I’ll acknowledge that I’ve changed some in my understanding that as the majority, we have a little bit different role to play than as the opposition or as the minority party. I’ve become more mission-oriented and problem solving-oriented versus just trying to make sure that we pronounce the Republican conservative position to no avail.
So yeah, it definitely is a long way from 1995 when there were 13 Republicans in the House doing everything we could to slow down a train of Democrats. But it just speaks to the change in Arkansas. Again, I’ll acknowledge that I’m a different guy than I was in my late 30s.