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OPINION: Who Dat Independent Candidate? What Does This Mean For ‘22?

by Maylon Rice | March 10, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

First, let me say, I have laid off this issue, allowing it gel before going all-in on state Senator Jim Hendren’s recent and very public separation from the Grand Old Party of Arkansas.

Next, I must say, he is definitely a “Hendren.”

And as a male leader in that family, well that in itself, equates as an entirely different political horse of the different color in Arkansas and is indeed a compliment.

Once, his father, the patriarchal leader of this rather independent bunch of “thinking politicians” from Northwest Arkansas, was a strong Democrat.

Heck, I’ll even go as far as to say, Kim Hendren was a proud Democrat too.

Being an independent inside a political party structure can be chaffing at best and frustrating at the worst in these modern times.

And that, I think is the key to what has occurred of late to Jim Hendren and of yesteryear to Kim Hendren.

As the political party with divisions over political strength (and that is always assessed in numbers) allows each division in the party to supersede the discussion of policy and loyalty, it breeds uncertainty.

The Republican members themselves often use the term RINO (Republican In Name Only) after those who seem to not quite toe the line of GOP policies in thought and action.

Democrats, on the other hand, have some members referred to as “Purple” — not exactly true blue to the Democratic Party and possibly tinged with a little of that conservative red from that other party’s influence.

But I think a lot of Arkansans are today listening to Jim Hendren and noting his change of the past few weeks.

Some freethinkers possibly like this new non-party affiliation.

Some party loyalists — unhappy with the recent change in GOP leadership in Arkansas — have some reservations about the party’s future and maybe even the National Party’s future direction.

And, as always, some to the Far Right, the most conservative wing of the GOP, think it is time to purge out all those not in lock-step with their beliefs, whether or not they align with the National Republican Party.

The recent voting percentages for the November 2020 election, however, show a rising tide of Republicans and a vast slipping away of a once solid Democrat stranglehold on statewide races.

Thus, can the independent spirit of Arkansas voters become seen in future Arkansas elections?

A similar independent spirit has surfaced boldly in the past, such as the time Arkansans re-elected Democrat stalwart J.W. Fulbright back to the U.S. Senate, voted for George Wallace for U.S. president (American Independent Party candidate) and re-elected Republican Winthrop Rockefeller to Governor — all on the same November ballot in 1968.

With the 2022 race for governor up for grabs, as term limits end the eight-year reign as governor for Hendren’s uncle, Asa Hutchinson, the GOP field once held three candidates (now reduced to two) for the chief executive’s chair.

An Independent candidate in that race, well it would be a long-shot, especially as the Libertarians will, as always, field a candidate. The Democrats, who have stood by in recent years and have an unknown flirting with running but no household names (which are fading fast), seem ready to enter the fray.

Hendren is mum about announcing, and that again, to me is, well, within the line of his predecessors of the Henden-Hutchinson political dynasty in Arkansas.

I recall former state Representative, Congressman and U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson (another of Jim Hendren’s uncles) once replying back to the braying press this tidbit about his impending announcement.

“When it is time for me to announce, I’ll announce then — not today. Got it,” he told a small gaggle of the press at some event I attended with notepad in hand.

So stay tuned friends. An announcement for a future political effort might be made soon, on his own time, not our time out here in the pencil press.

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Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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