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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Mission vague, but hopeful

by John Brummett | March 25, 2021 at 3:12 a.m.

I told state Sen. Jim Hendren that it sounded as if his fledgling Common Ground Arkansas will turn out either to be hype or great.

"I'm too old for hype, so it's going to be great," he said.

Hendren has received ample attention for leaving the Republican Party to become an independent and flirt with the idea of a governor's bid. But the entity that he announced simultaneously--Common Ground Arkansas--has been, beyond the high-mindedness, vague.

About all I could get Hendren to say was that it was going to be great, just you wait and see.

But I pressed him enough the other day that he got on a conference call with me and Common Ground Arkansas' executive director.

That turned out to be none other than Misty Orpin.

She happens to be the young northwest Arkansas woman with a background in journalism, business, community relations and economic development who is most notable for starting Arkansascovid.com on her laptop and making it into a Twitter rage (now taken over by the journalism department at the University of Arkansas) as the most informative and credible source for pandemic information for Arkansas.

Hendren said he told his uncle, the governor, that he ought to use Orpin's clear and relevant analytical information for his daily covid briefings, rather than state government's compilations. "But he doesn't listen to me."

Hendren credits Orpin with helping him do a professional job on the video rollout of his personal independence and new organization. He said reaction was so strongly positive--including in the form of donations--that he had to press her into work quickly to get a website up (commongroundar.org.) and organizational papers filed with the IRS.

Common Ground Arkansas is a 501(c)(4), meaning among other things that it needn't disclose donors. It has a 10-member board, the membership of which Hendren is not ready to reveal and that the IRS website hasn't yet posted even in part.

But Hendren did say he was fine with telling me that Davy Carter, the former Republican speaker of the House and likewise a supposed independent gubernatorial prospect, was involved.

Hendren hastened to say, though, that the organization and its aims go far beyond whether Hendren or Carter runs for governor, which I'm currently thinking neither will.

Common Ground Arkansas is not a "stop Sarah Sanders" imperative, even if a lot of people want it to be and even though the imperative is compelling.

That the Democrats will have to run a candidate for governor to maintain viability, thus splitting the anti-Sanders vote, renders inoperative what is believed to be the independent path to competitiveness. That is through a true independence that can borrow votes from the state's Democratic base without being laden by the national Democratic association.

Hendren said he's received encouragement on his third-way initiative from former legislative colleagues, well-known politicos and even a staff official at the Capitol pulling him aside to offer to help. He said the favorable response had been "about 30 percent Republican, 40 percent Democrat and 30 percent neither one nor the other but truly just sick of the way things are," meaning the dysfunction and "meanness" in our politics.

Exactly what Common Ground will be doing is not yet certain. For one thing, Hendren wants the legislative session to end before he gets more specific with a major media announcement.

Common Ground will not be a political party running candidates. As Hendren explained, it will be a group advocating problem-solving and pushing the nonpartisan election of problem-solvers.

It might form a political action committee or committees for direct contributions, though that's not yet clear.

Noting the horrid shooting incident in Colorado the day before, Hendren said Common Ground might be the kind of group that could call a conference at which Moms Demand Action and the National Rifle Association would look together for something agreeable, anything, to make the gun situation safer.

That's approximately the most ambitious assignment he could give his organization, and, to be clear, he was thinking out loud.

It might be, Hendren said, that we could look up as early as 2022 and see Common Ground advocating for problem-solving candidates for offices other than governor--races that Democrats could sit out, permitting the independents to go head-to-head with a divisive, doctrinaire right-wing Republican.

Congressional and legislative races come to mind, at least my mind.

It conceivably could work the other way, with a problem-solving independent opposing a strongly partisan Democrat. It's just that there aren't many of those in office in Arkansas currently.

So, there you have it. Stay tuned because it's going to be great, Hendren says.

As one looking for a form of Arkansas politics falling between the Trump cult and alienated national Democratic liberalism, that would be fine with me.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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