Chairman of Democratic Party of Arkansas won’t seek reelection

Democrat chair confirms report

Grant Tennille is shown in this December 2014 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)
Grant Tennille is shown in this December 2014 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Grant Tennille isn't seeking reelection during Saturday's meeting of the party's State Committee, he confirmed Thursday.

He said he decided not to run for reelection as the party chairman on Sunday, and he sent a written statement Monday to friends and fellow Democrats informing them of his decision.

"I'm exhausted," Tennille said in an interview.

He said he simultaneously served as the party's unpaid chairman and executive director and "that's lot to carry." He said the party's finances were in a fairly precarious financial position when he started as chairman and the party is now solvent.

"I"m really, really tired," he said.

Tennille has served as the party's chairman since October 2021 when the State Committee elected him over Jim Wallace of Eureka Springs to serve out the remainder of Michael John Gray's term.

Gray resigned as the party's chairman in September 2021 after serving in the post since March 2017. He is a former Democratic state representative from Augusta who was defeated in the 2018 general election, and then was elected as Woodruff County judge as an independent in the Nov. 8 general election.

The Arkansas Times first reported about Tennille's plan not to seek reelection as party chairman.

Tennille said he prefers to be working behind the scenes.

"I am much happier being the guy's guy than being the guy," he said.

Serving as party chairman requires someone to be father to a tribe of people with concerns and difficulties, and who all want to talk to the chairman, he said.

Tennille worked in the administrations of Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and served a stint as director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission under Beebe.

He said his decision to depart as party chairman is not linked to results of the Nov. 8 election.

"We didn't go into the election expecting anything really different than we got," Tennille said. "I sort of felt like we held serve, to use a tennis term."

Camden Republican Wade Andrews beat state Rep. David Field, D-Magnolia, in a state House district that was gerrymandered, and Democrats held on to the seats of state Reps. Steve Magie of Conway and David Whitaker of Fayetteville in difficult races, with Magie winning by 10 votes, Tennille said.

"I am satisfied that we did what we could do," he said.

In the regular legislative session, starting Jan. 9, the state House of Representatives will comprise 82 Republicans and 18 Democrats. It's currently made up of 78 Republicans and 22 Democrats. The Arkansas Senate will comprise 29 Republicans and six Democrats. Currently it has 27 Republicans, seven Democrats and an independent.

The Republicans hold the state's two U.S. Senate seats, all four congressional seats and all seven of the state's constitutional office posts -- governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and land commissioner -- and will continue to hold them next year when new officeholders are sworn in.

Tennille said the Democratic Party of Arkansas' State Committee on Saturday could delay the elections for party officer posts, including chairman, until sometime in January.

House Democratic leader Tippi McCullough of Little Rock said she plans to make a motion at Saturday's meeting to delay the elections of party officers. She said she wants to provide more time for potential candidates to consider whether to run and give them time to contact State Committee members.

State Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, said Thursday she is considering running for the state Democratic Party chair post.

Dan Whitfield of Bella Vista, a businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in the May 24 primary, tweeted Thursday that "I intend to seek a floor nomination to become the next chair of the Democratic Party of Arkansas Saturday morning."

James "Rus" Russell of Little Rock, a businessman who made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in the May 24 primary, said he is not going to run for party chairman and he supports Jannie Cotton to be the state chair.

Cotton, of Sherwood, could not be reached for comment by telephone late Thursday afternoon. She is a retired CEO for a mental health organization and has served as the chairperson of the Delta Presents Outreach Foundation, a nonprofit serving youth in Pulaski County and surrounding areas. In the 2020 and 2022 general elections, she lost to state Rep. Karilyn Brown, R-Sherwood.

The Republican Party of Arkansas' State Committee on Saturday elected former U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland of Little Rock as chairman, succeeding Jonelle Fulmer of Little Rock, who had served in the post since December 2020. Republican Gov.-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders signaled her support of Hiland two months ago.

Hiland told the party's State Committee on Saturday that "We are going to go down ballot.

"Anywhere we have an opportunity to move the Republican platform we are going to move it, and that is going to take effort," he said.

In another GOP development, the state party's executive committee on Wednesday unanimously selected former Republican National Committee and Republican Party of Arkansas staff member Seth Mays to be the party's next executive director, succeeding Sarah Jo Reynolds. Reynolds served as executive director for six years.

Hiland said in a news release that "Seth Mays has the experience, knowledge, relationships, and the work ethic to thrive in this leadership role. I look forward to working with him in leading the Arkansas Republican Party."

Mays served as political director for Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's 2018 reelection campaign and moved to Washington, D,C. to work for the Republican National Committee in local and national communications, where he interacted with media outlets across the nation, according to the Republican Party of Arkansas.

He returned to Arkansas to be the party's senior political director during the 2020 election cycle before working at JCD Consulting, and becoming the party's victory director for the 2022 election cycle. He also worked on former state Republican Party chairman and former state Sen. Doyle Webb's unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor.

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