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Democratic Party of Arkansas delays choosing a new chair during emotional meeting

Outgoing Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Grant Tennille discussed the future of the party and his decision to step down during a meeting Saturday.
Josie Lenora
Outgoing Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Grant Tennille discussed his decision to step down during a meeting on Saturday.

The Democratic Party of Arkansas is opting to wait to choose its next chairman. Committee members had originally planned to be select one during a meeting over the weekend.

At its quarterly meeting at the dimly lit Teamsters Union building in southwest Little Rock, Senate Minority Leader Tippi McCullough of Little Rock successfully moved to adjourn the meeting until January. She told KUAR News after the meeting the delay would give interested candidates “time for thoughtful, unhurried consideration.”

“It's hard to consider something that is a four-year term when you only have two or three days,” McCollough said, hoping this will give prospective candidates time to talk to the state committee members.

The centerpiece of the meeting was a report given by outgoing party Chairman Grant Tennille, who announced his decision to step down last week. During his speech Saturday, Tennille said he is too tired to continue in the job.

“I owe you guys a ton,” he said, “and I always will. And I will always be here to work for you and to fight for you. I need a rest.”

The meeting follows last November's midterm elections where Republicans swept nearly every race. The GOP retained its supermajority in the state House and Senate, and Arkansas will send only conservative politicians to Washington and the Governor’s Mansion. This is the first time two Republican governors will lead Arkansas in a row. Tennille said there is a simple explanation for the Democrats’ failures in the midterm elections.

“You want to know what happened,” Tennille asked, “we got outspent 75-to-1. Nobody wins that race outside of movies.”

Treasurer Phillip Hood walked party members through their financial situation. He explained how Democrats made small financial gains after being in dire straits before Tennille took over in October of last year.

“When I started here in the position, it was tantamount to swimming out to a sinking ship,” Hood explained. “We were deep in debt with very little income coming in and we didn't have a real direction.”

Hood said the Democratic Party of Arkansas now has about $133,000 on hand, which spurred applause from the crowd. Despite that, Tennille said the party still faces financial challenges going forward.

“We need people and we need money," Tennille said. "It starts with the money.”

He said the party was in an impossible situation, unable to win elections and unable to raise the money to do so. Tennille said he is bothered by the number of party members who don’t provide financial support, saying he’s given thousands of dollars of his own money and was not paid a salary for his leadership.

“So if you can't give and you won't work, is the architecture of mid-70s teamsters hall a thing for you, I mean, why show up," Tennille said, referencing the location where the meeting was being held.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, former U.S. Senate candidate Dan Whitfield from Bella Vista plans to run for chair, while former state Rep. Megan Godfrey of Springdale and former state House candidate Jannie Cotton from Sherwood are also interested in the position.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.