Republican state Sen. Jim Hendren made waves in February when he announced his decision to leave the GOP. In a state political environment dominated by Republicans, Hendren’s move raised eyebrows.
Hendren explained to Arkansas Money & Politics the factors that went into his decision.
AMP: What made you split from the Republican Party?
Hendren: It was a culmination of events that continued to build up pressure and frustration after the election. When I saw senators and political leaders in my party leading efforts to convince people that the election was stolen…that was just unbelievable to me and, I think, a complete failure of leadership. It completely led to the rioting that we saw on Jan. 6. I was absolutely appalled that … President Trump still refused to hold the leaders accountable.
AMP: Do you anticipate backlash?
Hendren: So far, to my surprise, it’s been overwhelmingly positive feedback, particularly from my constituents, and people all across the state. This is what they’re looking for, restoring decency to politics. I’ve gotten some blowback from Trump supporters and people on the extremes. Because if somebody disagrees with you or isn’t the same party as you, doesn’t mean you can’t work together.
AMP: What are some critiques that you have of the current two-party system?
Hendren: We have a system now that rewards the most extreme candidates on both sides. I have seen this play out in the Arkansas legislature between now and in 1995. In those days, we were not partisan. When it came to running legislation or working together, it wasn’t a major factor. Today, it’s the main factor. We’re electing more extreme candidates from both sides — 40 percent of our electorate is completely marginalized. The system does not fairly represent, proportionally, the majority of Arkansans.
AMP: What led to the growth of hyper-partisanship?
Hendren: We tend to nationalize our local parties. The Southern, conservative “blue dog” Democrat doesn’t exist anymore, because we’ve aligned them with the national party of Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders. We’ve allowed a smaller group to be even louder through social media. A lot of people in the middle who are too busy to engage in that social media drama are just left out.
AMP: Do you anticipate the emergence of a new political party?
Hendren: It’s one of the things that I considered. Do we just try to start a third party? We may eventually, but there’s a lot of challenges with that, especially if you’re trying to appeal to the middle with more broad and diverse interests.
AMP: What does a “common ground” approach look like in action?
Hendren: We’re building an organization that will focus on finding and supporting leaders who are interested in working together rather than pulling apart. There are leaders like that in every party. We’re going to encounter the extreme forces in every party and give legislators the ability to work together with support.