Hendren ‘not telling them no’ in governor’s race
Could Jim Hendren be the state’s next governor? He thinks so. I told him it would be an uphill climb.
The state Senate president pro tempore from Gravette in Northwest Arkansas said he’s being encouraged to run in 2022. He said supporters approve of what Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Republican legislators are doing. And he’s not discouraging their interest.
“I am beginning to travel some and to meet with some folks and have those discussions about the challenges that we face and the things that we can bring to the table to be successful,” he said while traveling on business Monday. He later added, “I guess what I’m saying is
I’m not telling them no at this point. I’m having those discussions.”
Hendren joked during a recent dinner speech at the National Conference of State Legislatures that he was declaring his candidacy – against his sister, state Rep. Gayla Mckenzie, R-gravette, for her office. When the women in the audience chanted her name, he told them he instead would run against his uncle for president.
That would be Hutchinson, who recently said a White House run is “on the table.”
Hendren’s name has been mentioned often concerning the 2022 governor’s race, but not as the first name on the list. Lt. Governor Tim Griffin is definitely running for governor, and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is considered a possible opponent.
Both are statewide elected officials with better name recognition and more state resources at their disposal than Hendren. I told Hendren that state legislators are often not as famous as they think they are. He agreed but said that’s true for most politicians.
An exception would be Sarah Huckabee Sanders. When she announced she was leaving the
White House and returning to Arkansas, President Trump encouraged her to run for governor in a tweet. She would enter the Republican Party primary with higher name recognition than Griffin,
Rutledge and Hendren, and as a national hero for many Republicans who love Trump. Her candidacy might make the governor’s office an uphill climb for everyone else.
Other challenges facing Hendren? I told him he might have to get past his familial relationship with Hutchinson with some voters. He pointed out his association with Hutchinson also will be an asset.
The other challenge facing Hendren is that he’s been an effective, bipartisan legislator who’s tried to solve problems. That kind of behavior is what you want in a legislative leader, but it doesn’t always get rewarded with a higher office. Hendren said voters are tired of Washington, D.c.-style partisan politics, but his working through hard issues as part of the legislative process means he has a record to attack, particularly in his party’s primary.
Hendren previously served six years in the Arkansas House when there were only about 13 Republicans in the 100-member body. Then, he was more partisan – Gov. Mike Huckabee called him and others “Shiite Republicans.” But the responsibilities of being in the majority, wanting to make things work, getting older and presumably wiser, and being the governor’s nephew changed his approach.
Outside the Capitol, he’s married with four children and five grandchildren. He owns Hendren Plastics in Gravette, which he started with his father, Kim Hendren, a former state legislator. He is a former F-15 fighter pilot who served during the Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan, and he has deployed five times in the last six years against ISIS.
If all four candidates run for governor, it will be a crowded primary. When I asked Hendren if he might run for Congress instead, he didn’t shut the door completely. However, he said his resume makes him a better fit at the State Capitol and that “life’s too short to spend it just treading water” in Congress.
But it’s not too short to climb uphill to the governor’s office, or at least try to. We’ll see who climbs it fastest in 2022.