On Thursday morning (Feb. 18), state Sen. Jim Hendren threw a curveball into the political arena, announcing his intention to leave the Republican Party and become an independent.
For Hendren, political polarization and incivility have hampered policymaking and coarsened public discourse. He said in a YouTube address that he will continue serving as a conservative legislator but as one without a party affilation.
“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.”
In the wake of his announcement, multiple state leaders have spoken out about Hendren’s decision to leave the party. On social media, several prominent state legislators have taken Hendren to task for dropping his allegiance to the GOP.
Sen. Trent Garner (R) has been one of the most vocal critics of Hendren’s move. On Twitter, Garner wrote, “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.”
Garner subsequently tweeted that Hendren had criticized the direction of the Republican Party when the “figurehead and real leader” of the Republican Party in Arkansas was his uncle, Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Sen. Bob Ballinger (R) similarly criticized Hendren’s decision, saying that it was a “sad” day. In a tweet, Ballinger referenced Hendren’s past as a member of the “Shiite Republican” faction in Arkansas politics, saying that “Times have changed and Jim has changed.”
“Today is sad, not because today Jim left the GOP, but it’s sad because today makes official what happened to Jim and with Jim over the last couple years. Great men often fall, but it’s never pretty and it is always sad,” Ballinger wrote.
The chair of the Arkansas Republican Party, Jonelle Fulmer, released a statement, calling the decision a way to attract attention to potential independent run for the Arkansas Governor’s Office. While Hendren has been tipped to run for governor at some point, he has not formally announced any plans.
“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.
Rutledge and Sanders have not issued statements on Hendren’s decision as of press time.
Hutchinson responded to the news of Hendren’s decision, saying that he believed that his motivations for leaving the party were “pure.” Hutchinson said that Hendren has played a major role in building the Republican Party in the past decades, working to lower taxes and reduce regulations in the state.
“While I understand the 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,” Hutchinson said in a statement.
Members of the Democratic Party of Arkansas have received the news of Hendren’s move more warmly. DPA chairman Michael John Gray applauded Hendren, saying that his exit from the GOP highlighted the direction that the party has been heading in.
“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. Greg Leding (D) also chimed in on Twitter, noting that while their politics were drastically different, he continued to respect the positions that Hendren took.
“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,” Leding said