The state legislative webpage now lists Rep. Nate Bell
of Mena, previously a Republican, as an independent.
I've sent a question to Bell about the change indicated, but he long ago stopped talking to the Arkansas Times
I could speculate that Bell's switch, if it be for real, is an outgrowth of his unhappy and finally unsuccessful opposition to Gov. Asa Hutchinson-backed legislation to shift the 2016 primary elections
from May to March. Bell was right. The change will create hardships for election officials and limit non-mainstream candidates, particularly for local offices. There's little in the way of proof the change will increase voter participation or make Arkansas a player in the Republican presidential primary. Also, March 1 could be a problem on account of weather. But major Republican figures wanted the change and they got what they wanted, despite dogged, crafty and almost-successful opposition by Bell and a few Democrats.
Since the battle, Bell has posted quite a bit about the fight. His Facebook page includes a link to his floor speech against the bill and the likes of a quote saying it is better to walk alone than with a crowd going the wrong direction. And there was this:
No party boss will EVER force me to vote for a bill that I believe is bad for Arkansas. Threatening me only strengthens my resolve to stand firm for conscience and principle.
Bell has said he doesn't intend to run for election again in 2016, so he may only have a fiscal session in front of him — in May when he'll be a particularly lame duck if he doesn't run and a successor will have been nominated. His wife, Phyllis, was hired as a $50,000-a-year lobbyist for Gov. Hutchinson. I don't know if she's still in that position or not.
Party affiliation or not, I wouldn't expect Bell to turn into a liberal when votes are counted. But he WILL break from orthodoxy now and then, and that's refreshing in days of a hyperpartisan Republican Party. Just this morning he commented on Twitter that Republican State Treasurer Dennis Milligan
never should have been elected "after the Krispy Kreme caper."
1) Lots more unhappiness from Bell on his Twitter feed
about GOP actions, including calling Saline County, which he likens to the "Cook County" of Arkansas politics. He got opposition there from a bill to reduce special elections.
2) Channel 4 quotes Bell: "I believe I can best represent my district and my values as an independent."