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Arkansas state senator says he's leaving Republican Party

A longtime GOP legislator in Arkansas on Thursday announced that he was leaving the Republican Party to become an independent, saying the violent pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was “the final straw.”

“This comes after many sleepless nights; a lot of serious consideration; and it comes with sadness and disappointment,” Hendren said in an announcement. “But it’s clear-eyed. I’m making this decision because my commitment to our state and our country is greater than loyalty to any political party.”

Hendren said that he’s watched a "systemic change at the core of our politics that emboldens our worst impulses, the most extreme thinking, disables policymaking, and hurts all of us.”

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While not explicitly naming former President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse votes to condemn Chinese government over Hong Kong Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at age 93 White House readies for Chauvin verdict MORE, Hendren alluded to several of Trump’s controversial remarks. He referenced Trump's 2015 comments calling Mexican nationals "rapists" and "murderers," as well as his attacks on the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain'Real Housewives of the GOP' — Wannabe reality show narcissists commandeer the party George W. Bush: 'It's a problem that Americans are so polarized' they can't imagine him being friends with Michelle Obama Congress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks MORE (R-Ariz.). 

“I watched the encouragement of the worst voices of racism, nationalism, and violence. And I watched my service, and the service of my fellow soldiers, dishonored with the ridicule of a gold star family whose son had served with distinction,” Hendren, a military veteran, said.

He also cited Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of “fair and free election" leading up to the Capitol riot. 

“I asked myself what in the world I would tell my grandchildren when they asked one day what happened and what did I do about it? At the end of the day, I want to be able to tell my family, my friends, and the people I serve that I did everything I could to do right by them. I want each of you to know that, even though I’m making this decision, I haven’t changed,” Hendren said.

He added that he still supports GOP cornerstones like restrained federal government and fiscal responsibility.

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“I’m still a conservative. But I’m one whose values about decency, civility and compassion I just don’t see in this party anymore,” Hendren said. “I haven’t changed. My party has.”

He revealed that he was forming a new nonpartisan organization for the “politically homeless” called Common Ground Arkansas, aimed at finding and supporting leaders “willing to come together.”

“We want to encourage the trip across the aisle and make it easier to resist the forces that continue to push both parties to extremes,” he added. “We want to provide a home for those who don’t feel comfortable in either party, while also working with reasoned and responsible leaders from both parties.”

Hendren has served in both chambers of the state legislature. He is a former president of the state Senate who has served in the upper chamber since 2013. 

He is also the nephew of Arkansas Gov. Asa HutchinsonAsa HutchinsonSarah McBride says US will 'eventually' elect a transgender president Two-thirds of Americans oppose laws limiting transgender rights: poll Arkansas state House votes to end 'Confederate Flag Day' MORE (R), who is barred by term limits from seeking reelection.

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Hendren told Talk Business & Politics that he has considered making a gubernatorial bid in 2022. 

“Right now, I’ve pushed that decision to the backburner because before anybody can win any serious race as an independent there has to be some sort of platform, some sort of foundation. I’m telling you there is a hunger for that in Arkansas,” he said.

There are several candidates who have already announced campaigns, including Trump’s former White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah SandersAndrew Giuliani planning run for New York governor Trump appears at Sarah Huckabee Sanders campaign event Trump likely to form new super PAC MORE Sanders. Both the state's Republican attorney general and lieutenant governor have announced they will also run.

The chairwoman of the Republican Party of Arkansas released a statement after Hendren's announcement saying the longtime GOP lawmaker has never “picked up the phone to express concerns.”

“He gladly received our substantial support over the years, including a mail piece from us last fall in his bid for re-election, where he ran on the Republican ticket a mere three months ago,” said Jonelle Fulmer. “The Republican Party has plenty of room for differing ideas. In fact, that is what has made us the majority party of Arkansas.”

Fulmer called Hendren’s exit as “nothing more than an attempt to garner press for a future independent candidacy for governor.”