Hen­dren ‘not telling them no’ in gov­er­nor’s race

The Saline Courier - - OPINION - ••• Steve Brawner is a syn­di­cated colum­nist in Arkansas. Email him at brawn­er­[email protected] Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @steve­brawner.

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.

STEVE BRAWNER

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