LITTLE ROCK — State Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, has dropped his affiliation with the Republican Party and is now an independent.

LITTLE ROCK — State Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, has dropped his affiliation with the Republican Party and is now an independent.


Bell changed his voter registration on Monday, according to the Polk County clerk’s office. The county does not provide "independent" as an option for political affiliation, so Bell changed his to "optional" but told the clerk’s office staff he wished to be an independent.


Bell, who did not immediately return a call Tuesday seeking comment, has served in the House since 2011. He has said he will not seek to return to the Legislature after next year.


The change means the House is now composed of 63 Republicans, 36 Democrats and one independent.


Bell has differed with a majority of House Republicans on a number of issues over the years, including one of the key issues of last week’s special session — moving the state’s primary elections from May 20 to March 1 for the 2016 election cycle.


Senate Bill 8 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, which the House and Senate approved and Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law, is aimed at allowing Arkansas to play a bigger role in next year’s presidential primaries by participating in an anticipated March 1 super primary with other Southern states.


Bell opposed the bill, which was assigned to the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, a panel he chairs. Bell introduced a rival bill to delay the change until 2018 election cycle, but the committee members rejected that measure and advanced SB 8.


"We’re considering a proposal here that literally upends the way we do elections here in Arkansas," Bell said at the time. "A lot of (potential candidates) don’t realize that to run in 2016 they have to start now."


House Majority Leader Rep. Ken Bragg of Sheridan said Tuesday that Bell told him last week he planned to switch from Republican to independent but said Bell did not state a reason. He acknowledged that Bell had differed with the House Republican Caucus on a number of issues.


"I know moving the primary date was one of the big issues. I don’t know if that’s what prompted the decision or not," Bragg said.


Bragg said he did not expect much to change because Bell "is still a conservative and I think he’ll still be supporting conservative issues."


House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, also said Bell told him of his plans last week. He said the only explanation Bell gave was that it was something he believed he needed to do to best represent his district.


Gillam said he respected Bell’s decision, "but we will miss him as part of our caucus."


State Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb said, "I’ve always thought that Nate was a good legislator and represented his people well, and I wish him well in his future political endeavors."


Webb said the party has been "talking to some individuals" about running under the GOP banner for Bell’s seat next year. He said he did not expect Bell’s decision to change the dynamic in the House in the meantime.


"He’s a very thoughtful and studied individual, and I believe he’ll vote most of the time the way he has in the past," he said.


Before Bell’s term expires, the Legislature will meet for a fiscal session in April. The governor also is expected to call another special session at some point to address health care reform.


Bell did not immediately explain his decision on social media, but he did joke about it Tuesday on Twitter, saying, "One thing is for certain. I’m no longer a #RINO" — an acronym for Republican In Name Only.