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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Relevant or not?

by John Brummett | November 25, 2021 at 2:53 a.m.

I sent Jim Hendren a message that I was going to miss him and that it was too bad because he had been coming around.

He sent back a message that I wasn't going to miss him because he wasn't going anywhere.

This is the question: Is he gone from credible Arkansas political standing, and is the cause of bipartisan rationality to which he'd lately turned amid great fanfare gone with him?

Hendren had just announced he would not seek re-election from his northwest-corner district to the state Senate, where he was president pro tem two years ago. In conventional terms, he had fallen far fast.

He had followed up when asked to say that he wouldn't be waging an independent race for governor either. He said he had an expanding plastics business and grandchildren, and that one required more of his time and the other inspired it.

It appeared, as some on the right wing chortled, that his big move from Republicanism to independence in February, which drew a lot of national attention and fueled his fighter-pilot ego, had gone kerplop.

Hendren said I'd been wrong about things before, which was certainly true considering that I'd engaged in irrationally wishful exuberance in February that he could be competitive as a third-party gubernatorial candidate forcing a trisecting of the electorate with Sarah Sanders and the Democratic candidate.

That was before calmer people explained to me that Sanders would get her Republican vote and that Hendren and the Democrat would split the independent and Democratic vote. I'd had a strangely naïve notion that there were Republicans willing to reject Trumpism and extremism and cast votes for a wayward Republican who couldn't take insurrection and extremism anymore.

A lone conservatively prone opponent blending the Democrats and independents might give Sanders a go. Hendren might have been that agent. But Democrats insist on existing on life support in Arkansas.

Their candidate--and their likely one is indeed impressive--will run for their tiny quotient but have no hope of much independent support. Arkansas independents go Republican anymore in a binary situation. Even if they think Donald Trump a bad fellow personally, they fear more the modern incarnation of the alien national Democratic Party--socialism, wokeness, cancel culture, abortion and all that--with which they now associate Arkansas Democrats.

Hendren's assertion of continued relevance centers on the nonprofit organization he announced when he made his ballyhooed departure from contemporary Republicanism. It's called Common Ground Arkansas. It's a 501(c)(4), meaning it can do some candidate advocacy so long as that's not its main purpose. It cannot by law function as a political party recruiting, producing and running a slate.

In spring Hendren assembled an impressive board for Common Ground and hired the uncommonly competent and energetic Misty Orpin as executive director.

The purpose, as she and he have taken pains to explain to me, is to advance the cause of community-based Arkansas political service--primarily state legislative service--that might come from either party or independent status and would emphasize Arkansas-centric problems and the solving of them by bipartisan effort.

The point is to produce an evolving state legislative culture of problem-solving removed from national labels. The current culture is one of right-wing resentment producing destructive grandstanding on divisive national culture issues. It lives by cookie-cutter legislation produced by national right-wing organizations.

Hendren says that Common Ground work will be what he's about in the next 12 months--along with the personal business and the grandkids. He told me it was the very kind of political work for which he was suited and that I could judge the results in the next election.

No cause pleases me more. No political effort seems to me more difficult.

Presumably, Common Ground will engage over these next 12 months in assorted activities seeking to spread the message that Arkansas needs to reject the nationally focused political nonsense it gets these days from Little Rock and begin to transform its focus into something more cooperative in the spirit of problem-solving.

From that, presumably, fine local people of varying or vague political labels and associations, which won't matter, will become inspired on their own--without direct recruitment--to run for the state Legislature. Common Ground can then offer help and support, since those candidacies would be arm's length, born from personal initiative and not as Common Ground's main activity.

Presumably, these noble local candidacies would arise in areas where they are most needed to oppose some of the most destructive grandstanding extremists.

Presumably, these coinciding dynamics in disparate areas around the state would produce a significant dent in the extremist conservative stranglehold.

That's a glorious set of presumptions, meaning beliefs taken to be true and used as a basis for further actions but which are not certain.

I fear political inertia is more potent than presumption. I find centrist passion a sadly oxymoronic phrase.

Have a little faith, counters the formerly relevant or still-relevant Hendren.

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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