Jim Hendren grew up in plastics. His father started and sold two expanded polystyrene molding businesses in the 1960s and 1970s in northwest Arkansas, and Hendren joined his father in starting another EPS molding company in 1984.
Now, the 38-year-old president of Hendren Plastics Inc. is hoping to take on another of the family businesses: a seat in Congress.
Hendren, who is the nephew of both Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson and former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, is seeking the Republican nomination for a special election to fill the vacant seat left when Asa stepped down this summer when he was named head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Hendren, who served the term-limited maximum of six years in the Arkansas House of Representatives and rose to become minority leader, will face off against three other candidates in a Sept. 25 primary, with a general election set for Nov. 20.
Hendren, who is thought of as a ``very solidly religious conservative political figure,'' appears to be the front-runner in the Republican primary, said Janine Parry, assistant professor of political science at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The district has been in Republican hands since 1966.
One complicating factor, though: Hendren acknowledged Aug. 20 that he carried on a year-long extramarital affair in 1999. He appeared at a news conference with his wife, who said she had forgiven him, according to The Associated Press.
Hendren said his background owning his EPS molding company in Gravette would serve him well. The firm has 30 employees.
``I understand the costs businesses have to bear trying to comply with a mountain of regulations,'' he said. He said he worked to block ``costly'' air-quality regulations in the Arkansas Legislature.
He said he intends to keep the company if he wins, but would need to find a general manager, a role he has filled until now.
Hendren touts laws banning partial-birth abortions and protecting fetuses as his top two legislative accomplishments, along with never voting for a tax increase and protecting property rights. The 38-year-old former U.S. Air Force F-15 pilot also served on the Gravette School Board.
Hendren said his uncles have helped with advice and behind-the-scenes assistance. Tim Hutchinson told Arkansas papers he was staying out of the race to focus on his own re-election, while Asa said he held a fundraiser before he became DEA chief. That position forbids him from political work. Asa's wife, Susan, since has written a fundraising letter, aides said.
Hendren said some suppliers and customers have contributed to his campaign. The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington said its political action committee has not been approached and has not contributed to Hendren's effort.
Curiously, the Republican primary includes another relative of a current Washington political figure: State Sen. Gunner DeLay, who is a distant cousin of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay.
If elected, Hendren would join several other members of Congress with plastics backgrounds. They include Reps. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Darrell Issa, R-Calif.