State Sen. Jim Hendren is leaving the Republican Party and will continue serving in his legislative role with no party affiliation. A Gravette native, Hendren represents District 2, which includes parts of Benton and Washington counties, in the Arkansas Senate.
In a YouTube address posted Thursday morning, Hendren announced that he would be leaving the GOP, a decision he said had been “weighing heavy on my heart and mind.”
Hendren cited ongoing political polarization and the decline of civility in public and political discourse as the primary reasons for leaving the Republican Party.
“Like so many of you, I look around at our country today, and I find it hard to recognize. I see colleagues unable or unwilling to work with each other. Neighbors and family divided against each other, and our state house too often unable to function for the people of Arkansas. This isn’t just because of political difference. It’s because we’ve let ourselves become bitter to other folk’s needs and perspectives. And our political parties have not only allowed this but too often encouraged and rewarded it. I also worry that our country is losing its civility in the public square. I hear language that I wouldn’t want our children to hear. I see our fellow citizens turning each other into enemies because of difference of opinion or party. I’ve seen our politics become a winner-take-all game that leaves too many folks losing,” he said.
The decision to leave was a difficult one, he said, with disappointment but one that was “clear-eyed.” Leaving the party, according to Hendren, will allow him to honor his oath to serve all the people in Arkansas.
“Sadly, what I see is a broken system that needs to be fixed. It’s time for change and some tough decisions,” he said.
“I’m making this decision because my commitment to our state and our country is greater than loyalty to any political party.”
Hendren’s departure is a shocking one for one of the most prominent Republicans in the state legislature. He has served as a state legislator since he was elected in 1994 to the Arkansas House of Representatives and has served in the Senate since 2013. In the 92nd General Assembly, Hendren served as the President Pro Tempore, and he is the chair of the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee.
Hendren is a member of one of the most notable political families in Arkansas. He is the son of former state legislator Kim Hendren, who served in both the Arkansas House of Representatives and the Arkansas State Senate, including as Minority Leader. He is also the nephew of current Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson.
Hendren criticized the political division that has become increasingly prevalent in the past decade, taking aim at the rise of “extreme thinking” and “alternative facts.” According to Hendren, these developments hinder the policymaking abilities of legislative bodies and harm the American public.
“Division has been taken to a whole new level. Our political discourse has become boldly us versus them. From some quarters, it is loudly mean and disrespectful to our country, our traditions and our fellow citizens. And way too often, we seem to be unable to agree on simple facts. I’ve watched the systemic change at the core of our politics that emboldens our worst impulses. The most extreme thinking disables policymaking and hurts all of us,” he said.
Despite saying that the increased polarization could not be attributed to any single person or group of people, Hendren took square aim at former President Donald Trump in his address. Hendren referenced multiple events from the 2016 presidential campaign that disturbed him, including Trump’s criticism of U.S. Army Captain Khizr Khan’s family.
“I watched the encouragement of the worst voices of racism, nationalism and violence. And I watched my service and the service of my fellow soldiers dishonored with the ridicule of a Gold Star family whose son had served with distinction. I also heard a hero of mine, John McCain, called a loser on national television. I watched the former president actively fan the flame of racist rhetoric, make fun of those with disabilities, bully his enemies and talk about women in ways that would never be tolerated in my home or business,” Hendren said. “As he did this from the highest office in the land, I realized that my daughters and my granddaughters were hearing it too, and I worried about the example this set for my sons and grandsons. And I watched as this behavior went on with nobody holding him to account and our party leaders too often taking a backseat rather than leading,”
In the past election cycle, Hendren witnessed Trump and the Republican Party attempt to undermine a “fair and free election,” using conspiracy theories and false statements. Hendren laid the blame for the January 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol insurrection at their feet.
“For me, that day was the final straw. I asked myself, ‘What in the world would tell my grandchildren when they ask one day what happened and what did I do about it,’” Hendren said.
While he is leaving the party, Hendren insisted that he has not changed his political beliefs. He cited fiscal responsibility and the need for a “restrained” government that can meet the people’s needs as the hallmarks of his political ideology.
“I’m still a conservative, but I’m one whose values about decency, civility and compassion I just don’t see in my party anymore. I haven’t changed; my party has,” he said.