Sen. Jim Hendren’s announcement to leave the Republican party and serve as an independent was met with a lack of enthusiasm from most GOP officials as the day unfolded Thursday (Feb. 18).
Hendren, a businessman from Gravette, is the past Senate President Pro Tempore and is the nephew of Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. In a Thursday morning video and press release, Hendren declared he was no longer a member of the GOP, while announcing plans to form a new organization aimed at working in bipartisan fashion.
Gov. Hutchinson said, “I have worked for over 40 years to build the Republican Party in Arkansas, and we have been successful by becoming the majority party and using our majority to lower taxes, reduce regulations, transform government and protect life.”
“Sen. Hendren has been a big part of that success story in leading the Senate and working to find solutions. Jim is family and his heart is in service and I know his motivations are pure. While I understand and identify with the concerns expressed by Sen. Hendren, I am convinced that for me the best pathway for continued conservative governance is through the GOP,” he added.
Jonelle Fulmer, chairwoman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, responded to Hendren’s announcement saying the senator never expressed his concerns to her. She said some of the concerns Hendren raised stem from a presidential primary that happened five years ago.
“This is nothing more than an attempt to garner press for a future independent candidacy for governor, knowing that he cannot compete with the conservative records of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge or Sarah Huckabee Sanders,” Fulmer said.
Hendren, who has been rumored to be mulling a gubernatorial run, tells Talk Business & Politics, he’s undecided.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said, “While I appreciate Senator Hendren’s and his family’s public service, I am disappointed by his decision to leave the Republican Party.”
The Democratic Party of Arkansas’ Chairman, Michael John Gray, responded to the Hendren announcement by taking a swipe at the Arkansas GOP.
“A leader in the Republican Party of Arkansas has declared he is leaving a party that has become too extreme, too radical, and too dangerous. He said what most of us already knew, that today’s Republican Party of Arkansas doesn’t focus on the needs of Arkansans but rather on the divisive rhetoric and issues that divide our country,” Gray said.
“Sen. Hendren’s exit highlights the mistakes that have been made by blindly voting for Republicans based on the divisive national rhetoric. Arkansas Democrats have been and always will be the party that puts the people of Arkansas first,” Gray added.
Some of Hendren’s legislative colleagues reacted on social media.
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, criticized Hendren, saying, “Senator Hendren put ego over principles in his time in the Republican Party. He sold out his constituents for raw political power when it suited him. The Republican Party became better today.”
Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, tweeted, “We’ve disagreed more than we’ve agreed over the years, but I’ve always appreciated Senator Hendren’s seriousness, willingness to engage in honest debate, and commitment to his conservative principles.”
Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, who also serves as Senate Minority Leader, complimented Hendren’s move.
“Jim and I have been friends for many years, and our fathers served together before us. I respect his decision and look forward to working with him and other like-minded lawmakers who are ready/willing to find common ground and put the needs of Arkansans ahead of party,” Ingram said on Twitter.
Editor’s note: Marine Glisovic is the senior political reporter for KATV.