‘Common Ground AR’ group has gone inactive, ex-president Hendren says


Common Ground AR, a nonprofit group that sought to reduce partisan tension in the state Legislature by focusing on shared interests, has gone inactive, according to its former president and founder.

"It was a good effort, and it may come back in another form," said former state Sen. Jim Hendren of Sulphur Springs. Hendren left the Republican Party and formed the group in February 2021, saying the "final straw" was the Jan. 6 riot.

The group endorsed candidates it considered pragmatic in the 2022 Republican primaries. It also took positions on issues. For instance, the group opposed a proposed state constitutional amendment regarding proposed constitutional amendments and initiated acts brought by voter petition. Issue 2 on the 2022 ballot would have raised the threshold for approval of such voter-initiated ballot measures from a simple majority to 60% of the vote. The measure failed.

"There's still a hunger for people willing to work together, but the system is structured in such a way that it makes that incredibly difficult -- not impossible but difficult," Hendren said.

Candidates for office from the major parties are selected in primaries where the most partisan voters have the most influence, he said.

The hunger for alternatives appears to be growing, Hendren said, citing recent petition efforts to put the state's Freedom of Information Act into the state Constitution and to revise the Freedom of Information law further with an initiated act.

"There's no question there's a lot of frustration with the Legislature," which passed restrictions on the existing Freedom of Information law in a special session in September, Hendren said. "The people of Arkansas still believe in the state motto," which is "regnat populus" -- Latin for "the people rule."

The Republican Party of Arkansas had no comment on whether Common Ground AR had any influence on state politics. Phone messages left Thursday and Friday weren't returned, nor was there any reply to an email sent Tuesday.

"I will say they had a strong idea about what they wanted to do, but I disagreed pretty vocally about how they tried to do it," said Grant Tennille, executive director of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

Common Ground concentrated on supporting more pragmatic candidates in Republican primaries, Tennille said. Republicans are the state's dominant political party with a super-majority in both chambers of the state Legislature and hold all the statewide elective offices.

"I told them they should have let their endorsement be a badge anybody could wear, Republican or Democrat," Tennille said.

"I will say that now we're seeing a lot more people who are like old-time Arkansas voters, more interested in results than partisan talking points," Tennille said. Recent acts of the Legislature, such as the FOI restrictions, have alarmed voters, he said.

"Nate Bell and I don't agree on anything," Tennille said of the former state representative who's leading the effort to put the Freedom of Information measures on the ballot. Bell also left the Republican Party while in office.

"When he started that drive on the FOI, though, he sought out Clarke Tucker," a Democratic state senator from Little Rock, who is also an attorney. Seeking out whoever can be of help regardless of party affiliation would have worked better for a group like Common Ground, he said.