State Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, left the Republican Party earlier this year over the extremism he saw in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He’s convinced political extremism is driving the COVID-19 conversation in Arkansas and at the state capitol during this past week’s special session.
Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Hendren said “loud,” “angry” legislators are more interested in posturing than problem-solving.
“We’ve got a loud group, an extreme group, who is mimicking what they see in D.C. They’re mimicking what they see successful in primary politics, and they’re bringing that to the capitol,” Hendren said. “But I am optimistic in the sense that I continue to hear from people all over the state that that’s not what they want. They want people who will solve problems. They want people who will be grown-ups and fix things that need to be fixed instead of continuing just to pander and make bold statements that really have no impact other than to fire up people on social media.”
When asked if he sees the extremism in Democratic and Republican politics, Hendren said it’s more pronounced in the GOP in Arkansas.
“I’m going to tell you that clearly most of the anger and most of the extremist stuff that we’re seeing is coming from the right. But the biggest reason for that is because the right controls 75% of the legislature,” he said. “I think if it were flipped, we would be seeing some of the same pressures from the left that we’re seeing from the right. But there’s no question that most of this extremism and most of the things that you’re talking about, the incivility, the lack of professionalism, I see a lot more of that coming from people who just seem to be angry on the right.”
Hendren agreed with Judge Tim Fox’s Friday decision to issue an injunction on Act 1002, a new state law that banned mask mandates.
“I hope the bill is declared unconstitutional because I think it is a bill that is bad, public health policy,” he said. He also said true conservatives would be in favor of local control, not an inflexible state mandate.
“The conservative thing to do is to let local decisions be made by the local governing authorities, whether it be the school board or the city council. We ripped all that away and made all those decisions in a one-size-fits-all solution at Little Rock that gives school boards no authority to deal with the emergency that I think all the physicians tell us is coming,” Hendren said.
His Common Ground Arkansas is building momentum, according to Hendren. Fundraising has been successful, its board has been announced, and there are more people spreading the bipartisan group’s messages. Hendren remains a potential candidate for Arkansas governor in 2022. He admits he hasn’t closed the door on running yet.
“Everybody thinks about it and I’m still thinking about it. I haven’t made a final decision because I am focusing on spending most of my effort now on Common Ground,” Hendren said. “One of my kids texted me and said, ‘This governor’s race isn’t nearly as big a deal as what you can do with Common Ground.’ And I really believe that… I know that it’s a heavy lift, just like this session was a heavy lift, but I hope it turns out better than the session did on success.”
You can watch Sen. Hendren’s full interview in the video below.