The Arkansas State Legislature hasn’t convened in person in more than a week due to the unprecedented winter storms which hit communities across the state over the past week.

With snow accumulation totals hitting 25 inches in some parts of Arkansas during both storms, legislative leaders Matthew Shepherd, the Speaker of the State House of Representatives, and Jimmy Hickey, the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate, issued a proclamation on Feb. 13 which recessed the 93rd General Assembly until safe travel to the State Capitol was possible.

Despite the lack of legislative debate this past week, one important piece of political news did come from a well-known Arkansas politician. Jim Hendren, a state senator who previously served as the leader of the Arkansas House Republican Caucus and Senate President, announced on Thursday that he was leaving the Republican Party to become an Independent.

In a nine-minute video released to his Twitter page, Hendren, the nephew of the state’s Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, explained his reasoning for his exit from the party he’s been a part of for decades.

“[The Jan. 6 Capitol Riot was] the final straw,” Hendren said. “I asked myself [what would] I tell my grandchildren when they asked [what happened that day] and [what I did about it]. At the end of the day, I want to be able to tell my family, friends and the people I serve that I did everything I could to do right by them.”

In additional comments, Hendren spoke out against the actions of former President Donald Trump and cited Trump’s comments about late Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Trump’s peddling of a disproven claim that the 2020 Election was stolen from him as part of his rationale for leaving the GOP.

“I’m one who values decency, civility [and] compassion,” Hendren said. “I just don’t see [those values] in my party anymore. I haven’t changed. My party has.”

In addition to his switch to an Independent, Hendren announced the creation of a new organization, “Common Ground Arkansas.” The organization will provide a home for independents on both sides of political issues, Hendren said.

“It’s time to build a place for the politically homeless,” Hendren wrote in a tweet on Thursday.

Many other state Republican politicians haven’t directly commented on Hendren’s GOP exit. However, fellow Sen. Bob Ballinger wrote a statement in a series of tweets following Hendren’s announcement on Thursday.

“It’s sad to see Hendren leave the GOP,” Ballinger wrote. “There was a time when we fought against bad policy side-by-side [and] a time when [former Gov.] Mike Huckabee included him as one of the ‘shiites’ because of his uncompromising conservatism. Times have changed and [Hendren] has changed.”

Faulkner County’s Sen. Jason Rapert liked multiple tweets which were critical of Common Ground Arkansas and Hendren’s decision. Rapert, however, didn’t issue a statement directly addressing Hendren’s move away from the state GOP.

The State Legislature will consider multiple pieces of legislation next week, including Rapert’s controversial bill which would ban almost all abortions in Arkansas. Additionally, multiple legislative committees are scheduled to meet next week and already have their agendas posted online. As of press time Friday, the state senate and house bill schedule for next week had yet to be published online.

Staff Writer Kolton Rutherford can be reached at krutherford@thecabin.net.

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