Grant Tennille, who worked in the administration of then-Gov. Mike Beebe, was selected Saturday as the chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.
Tennille, 52, of Little Rock received a majority of votes over Jim Wallace, a former Arkansas Senate candidate from Eureka Springs, during a videoconference meeting that lasted more than two hours. The term runs through November 2022, filling out the remainder of Michael John Gray's term.
Tennille has been working as an unpaid adviser to Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. Tennille was the head of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission under Beebe's administration, in which he had also served as the governor's deputy chief of staff.
"For Grant, there is no job too big, no job too small; he's trustworthy, capable and ferociously loyal," Beebe said in a letter of recommendation.
Democratic Party of Arkansas spokesman Jacob Kauffman said the selection was made by the party at large.
The vote was done electronically and by phone number, and ballots were counted while the State Committee handled other business such as rules changes and nominations to fill vacant positions.
"Our State Committee is comprised of delegates previously elected to represent each county," Kauffman said.
State Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock nominated Tennille, saying he was the best choice to lead the Democratic Party through an uncertain future.
"We find ourselves in our position now where we are literally sink or swim," she said.
The party once dominated political offices in Arkansas, but in the past decade, the Republican Party has taken control, from the congressional delegation to the state's constitutional offices and the Legislature. The next election is in 2022.
Elliott said Tennille's abilities to raise money and relate to all ethnic and age groups are the strengths she believed the Democratic Party needs.
"He is a great person and good Democrat," she said.
Tennille told the gathering that the passion among the state's Democrats has been made clear to him.
"It has always carried us through tough times," he said. "It's time to build a state party that matches that fire."
A key topic throughout the meeting was the financial issues the Democratic Party faces in a state now dominated by the Republican Party.
One of the things mentioned was the need for fundraising.
"We need a comprehensive, organized and well-funded battle plan," Tennille said. "We got to refill our battle chest."
Tennille said he also wanted to fix a rumored rift between Democrats in Northwest Arkansas and the rest of the state.
"Our growing diversity in this state is making Arkansas strong," he said. "Rural black Democrats are the core of our party, and we must keep fighting for them. I’ve heard from Micah Wallace, and other Young Democrats, who are ready to be the engine that propels us forward. We must create opportunities for them to lead on issues they care about, preparing them to take the reins of this Party in the near future.”
Tennille also said he wanted to bring the working class of Arkansas back to the Democratic Party.
"We are the party that fights for all Arkansans," he said. "We will get back to it stronger than before. Now is not the time to wait and see. Recommit ourselves to the common purpose today."
Doug Hausler, a member of the party's Carroll County executive committee, nominated Wallace, 64.
"He is very energetic and has wide views and ideas of where he would like the party to go," Hausler said of Wallace.
Wallace said his goals would include making the party financially stable and speaking to county leaders.
"We have many immediate needs," he said.
Nicole Hart, the interim chairwoman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, was previously the vice chairwoman for the State Committee before taking over in August.
Gray resigned in August to become executive director of a new super political action committee, Liberty and Justice for Arkansas. That committee was formed to "hold dangerous extremists in our government accountable for their actions against our democracy" and "defeat politicians whose inflammatory rhetoric and divisive actions make them unfit to lead Arkansas," according to its website.
Gray, a lawyer and Woodruff County farmer, was elected to replace outgoing Chairman Vince Insalaco in March 2017. A state legislator at the time, Gray stepped down as House minority leader shortly thereafter to focus on party leadership.
The following year, he lost his seat in the state House of Representatives to a Republican, Craig Christiansen of Bald Knob.
In December 2018, Gray was elected to a full four-year term as party chairman. The job is unpaid.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained a quote from Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Grant Tennille that was missing its full context. The quote has been restored.