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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Pooh-poohing partisans

by John Brummett | September 29, 2020 at 4:01 a.m.

State Sen. Jim Hendren ranted on Twitter last week against his state Republican Party in defense of a Blue Dog Democratic colleague opposed by Republican smears in the general election.

If presses were still running, I'd say stop them over that bit of news.

Actually, it's big news only in the generally unheard-of context of a contemporary Republican assailing his own party in defense of a Democrat. That it's specifically Hendren ... well, it's still news, but the presses should keep running.

Hendren is thinking about running for governor as an independent in 2022. He probably won't do it, but the idea is to carve out a third of the general election statewide vote from pragmatic right-leaners and centrist independents--people who liked Mike Beebe and now like Asa Hutchinson, who, yes, in case you haven't heard, is Hendren's uncle.

That conceivably could compete with the Trumpian third that would favor Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the anemic third that is about all an Arkansas Democrat could ever hope to get statewide as long as the national party is defined by Arkansas cultural aliens like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

I'm not saying that Hendren's disdain for silly but sadly effective Republican attacks on Democratic state Sen. Bruce Maloch of Magnolia was tactical. I'm saying it was representative of Hendren's evolution toward placing a premium on pragmatic governing that accelerated when he gave himself over to helping Uncle Asa succeed.

All that easy back-bench right-wing claptrap loses currency when you confront keeping state government running. Hendren came to appreciate the Senate's few Democrats when they eschewed partisan obstruction and worked with him and Uncle Asa on reasonable solutions. Maloch was prominent among those.

So, when Hendren got a load of a couple of Republican mailers attacking Maloch for taking positions that Hutchinson and Senate Republicans had advanced to solve problems, and needed Democrats to help them pass, he fumed on a long Twitter thread about the horribleness of our partisan politics.

Maloch is hardly alone. In similar mailings from Republicans, conservative and moderate rural Democratic legislative candidates have been fielding cookie-cutter attacks as cultural liberals supposedly tethered to

Ocasio-Cortez and Kamala Harris.

You could be a deer-hunting, abortion-opposing local Baptist deacon and, if a Democrat running for the state Legislature in rural Arkansas, find yourself accused by Republican mailings into your neighbors' homes of having joined Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris in a three-way at a Marxist convention.

None of this means that Hendren is running as an independent for governor. It means his disdain for the kind of politics being used by his own party against Maloch is the reason he's even thinking about it.

One of the mailers assails Maloch for a series of votes that Hendren and most Republican legislators also made, sometimes at Hutchinson's behest. Among them was a tobacco tax used to offset tax relief for low-income working families. Then there was the vital tax on Internet sales to keep state government afloat in the transforming retail sales world.

The other mailer tried to tie Maloch to national liberals on abortion, which he steadfastly opposes.

Maloch is among the last few of the surviving old-style rural Arkansas Democrats--culturally to the right and populist centrist otherwise.

Now Republicans are trying to take him out with some guy in the propane business. His name is not important, just as he isn't, because the point is to extinguish all "D's" with smears, and any warm body of an "R" will do.

You don't have to offer anything on your own if your party will send out mailers from headquarters in Little Rock saying the Democrat is a socialist baby-killer.

It's a trend by which we will wind up with a Legislature of ciphers owing their elections to offering nothing while their opponents were cynically demonized for working pragmatically with the three or four pragmatic Republicans left.

We have been saved in Arkansas from the utter destruction of extreme conservatism first by the popular moderate Democratic leadership of Beebe and then by the pragmatic center-right Republican leadership of Hutchinson.

That kind of leadership is not likely from a Republican field in 2022 of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Leslie Rutledge and Tim Griffin--though I'll tell you again, believe it or not, that Sanders is perhaps a better prospect than the others.

Her dad routinely said wild right-wing things while he went along with expanding children's health insurance and court-ordered school reform including a big tax increase.

Sanders remains the favorite, if she runs, as it appears she will.

I'm not sure whom Hendren would find in the Legislature to work with even if he got elected and especially if Maloch gets smeared out of office.

Sanders would have pliant party ciphers all around her.


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


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