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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Independent streak

On Jim Hendren leaving the party February 23, 2021 at 3:01 a.m.

The Duke of Norfolk: "Oh confound all this. I'm not a scholar, I don't know whether the marriage was lawful or not but -- dammit, Thomas, look at these names! Why can't you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!"

Thomas More: "And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?"

-- "A Man for All Seasons"

It doesn't have to be Three-Dimensional Chess. It doesn't have to be checkers. It doesn't have to be a game at all.

What is it with Americans in general and Arkansans in particular that every move has to be for political advantage? Did you see the Williamsons next door? They bought a hybrid. I'll bet she's running for school board!

Sometimes a hybrid is just a hybrid. And sometimes people make decisions based on principles, not politics. Until it is proven otherwise, we all should assume that Jim Hendren made his latest newsworthy decision based on principle. That's what principled people do. And Hendren, over the years, has proven himself a principled man.

Hendren, a state senator and political insider since memory runneth not to the contrary, has left the Republican Party to become an independent. And Hendren wasn't just any ol' Republican. He's spent years as the Senate president pro tempore. We hear that his family is in politics, too. And they are members in good standing with the Grand Old Party.

Hendren said the final straw was the Jan. 6 riot at the nation's Capitol. Which was another straw, final or otherwise, for many people.

He told the press that he's founded an outfit called Common Ground Arkansas. According to Michael Wickline's story last week, the group will try to "find and support leaders willing to work together instead of pushing people apart." Which is honorable enough.

Doubtless, the gentleman from Sulphur Springs is considering running for governor. (We think it may be AP Style that requires each story about him to include: "Hendren, 57, who is considering a run for governor . . .") But last week, on announcing this move, he said he'll look at that down the road: "This is not about me starting a governor's campaign."

Few committed political watchers or voting Arkansans, but we repeat ourselves, will believe him. That's a shame. We the People should give him the benefit of the doubt that he is moved by his convictions. Can't we chalk this up to somebody doing something merely because he thinks it's right?

Besides, we're not sure how leaving the Kansas City Chiefs for the arena league helps one win an NFL title. Unless the pundits are really, really wrong -- November 2016 wrong -- the next governor of Arkansas will be a Republican.

From a purely political and heathen point of view, it will be interesting to see if Hendren, his new organization, and his political career gain any traction (read: money) in the next 20 months. And what the polls say in the next 20 weeks. Checkers and 3-D chess aside, if this was poker, Hendren would be a wild card.

The two leaders of the state's major political parties followed up on Hendren's announcement with self-serving boilerplate. The statements will be forgotten by tomorrow, if not before. The commentariat, however, was all atwitter, in more ways than one, for days. How would the other campaigns, potential or active, react? Could 2022 be another 1968, when Arkansans famously split their votes for top offices three different ways? Is the Ledge leaning too far to one side to ever work with an independent governor? Quick, get statements from Sarah Sanders, Leslie Rutledge, Asa Hutchinson and Sam Pittman!

For his part, Hendren said he is still a conservative who believes in fiscal responsibility and a restrained government. But he also values decency, civility and compassion. To some of us, that sounds very Republican.

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