Family first: Hendrens will be first brother and sister to serve in same legislative session

by Paul Gatling (pgatling@nwabj.com) 1,120 views 

Jim Hendren, from left, Kim Hendren and Gayla Hendren McKenzie

A Hendren winning a political race in Benton County is hardly a surprise. Family patriarch Kim Hendren and one of his sons, Jim Hendren, have been reliably elected Republican legislators from Gravette for years, either as state representatives or state senators. It dates back to Kim Hendren’s first election in 1978 to the state Senate — ironically, as a Democrat.

Gayla Hendren McKenzie, Kim Hendren’s daughter, officially entered the family political business Nov. 6, with an easy win (71.3%-28.7%) against Democrat Chris Burch to represent District 92 in the Arkansas House of Representatives. They were running as first-time candidates seeking to fill the House seat held since 2015 by Kim Hendren, who did not seek re-election.

When the 92nd General Assembly convenes Jan. 14 in Little Rock, McKenzie’s victory will officially make a little political history. She and Jim Hendren, a former House member (1995-2001) and now the top Republican in the Senate who has represented District 2 since 2013, will be the first brother and sister to serve in the same legislative session.

“There have always been so few women in the legislature, that I feel pretty confident in saying they are [the first brother and sister],” John Reed, the Senate information officer, wrote in an email.

Reed did point out siblings in the same legislature aren’t uncommon, referencing three sets of brothers in the past 20 years. From 2011 through 2016, Steven and David Meeks were in the House together. They’re from Conway. From 2003 through 2012, Senators Gene and Jimmy Jeffress served together. Jimmy is from Crossett and Gene from Louann, in Ouachita County. The Jeffress brothers also served together in the House, in 1999 and 2000.

Jeremy and Tim Hutchinson, cousins of the Hendren siblings, were together in the House in 2005 and 2006.

When asked what advice he might have for his sister as a first-time legislator, Hendren said simply to do what she thinks is best.

“When you come from a family that has been involved, politically, for a long time, it’s tempting — or at least it was in my case — to rely on Dad, or her to rely on me, or an uncle or a cousin,” he said. “You will be far more effective if you make your own way, and I am confident she will do that.”

That uncle, of course, is Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Jim Hendren said McKenzie’s business experience will serve her well in the legislature. He also said it’s exciting to see more women being elected to political office. Of the 100 state representatives in the upcoming legislative session, 25 are women. That’s up from 18 in 2017, and ties the record for women in the state House set in 2009.

McKenzie is the former owner of FM radio station KBVA-106.5 “The Variety,” a 50,000-watt radio station licensed in Bella Vista. She built the station in 1991, just one year out of law school at the University of Arkansas, and sold it last year for $1.15 million.

She is now the sole owner of manufacturing company Ozark Stone Design in Gravette.

McKenzie, a licensed but not practicing attorney, said education issues and continuing her father’s reputation of constituent service are important to her as she prepares for her first term in the state House. She is also excited to start a career in public service alongside her older brother. It will be another thing the two siblings have in common. They also share the same birthday (Aug. 12), two years apart.

“We’re pretty close, of course, and always have been,” McKenzie said.

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