For Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), joining Congress was not so much a change in job as a change in role.
Though technically a freshman, Hudson is a veteran of the Hill’s political churn, having been deeply enmeshed in Republican politics for his entire adult life.
His campaign work led to a stint as the communications director for North Carolina Republicans, which in turn led to a post as district director for 8th District forerunner Robin Hayes. Finally, from 2005 through 2011, Hudson worked in Washington as chief of staff for three different members of Congress.
“This certainly wasn’t by design,” Hudson told The Hill. “I’m just someone who really believes you can make a difference in the political process, and I was doing that as a grassroots person, as a behind-the-scenes person.”
Stepping from behind the scenes into the limelight, Hudson says, is just “a different way to achieve the same objectives I’ve [always] had.”
Shortly after resigning his chief of staff post and returning to North Carolina, Hudson decided to challenge then-Rep. Larry Kissell (D) in what he deemed an “overnight decision.”
The race had a personal edge; Kissell had defeated Robin Hayes, Hudson’s friend and former boss, in 2008.
Though Kissell was a Blue Dog Democrat who had survived the 2010 Republican wave, he was badly hindered by redistricting, which tilted the district more Republican. Hudson won by 8 points.
As a former chief of staff, Hudson arrived in Congress in the unusual position of having three former bosses in the chamber with him. Two of them are in a congressional Bible study with Hudson, and he says there is little ribbing about his past subordinate role.
“Both have been very supportive ... we look out for each other,” Hudson said.
According to Hudson, the biggest advantage of his Capitol Hill experience was in setting up his office following his election. He says he was able to quickly find capable staff and even hired Kissell’s casework director to ensure a low drop-off in constituent services.
Another advantage of knowing the ins and outs of Washington was that Hudson was able to secure a spot on the House Republican Steering Committee, which controls committee assignments. Hudson himself landed three committee positions as well as a chairmanship of a subcommittee, a degree of involvement matched by only one other freshman Republican.
Hudson’s Washington experience and rapport with Republican leadership led to criticism from the anti-establishment wing of the party. This was exacerbated by claims that Hudson was hiding his Washington roots and posing as a businessman by founding a consultancy, Cabarrus Marketing Group, shortly before entering the race.
Hudson says there was no duplicity on his part, but rather, it was a contingency plan if his Congressional run went south.
“I only had two clients … if I had lost the election, I would have needed to go out and get some more clients,” Hudson said with a laugh.
“I’m not running as a business magnate,” he continued. “I’m not running on my years of being a small business owner. I’m running on who I am as a person, my experience, [and] the fact that I think I can be effective.”
Hudson said his brief stint as a business owner was still an enlightening experience.
“Even with a small business with two clients, running out of my house, I still dealt with regulations and red tape, and … all the paperwork you have to do,” he said.
While Hudson does not view himself as a centrist, he does have a pragmatic streak reflecting his days as a chief of staff. Though he will pit his conservative credentials against anybody’s, he also says compromise is essential to good lawmaking.
“Are you compromising core principles, or are you compromising tactics?” Hudson asked rhetorically. “My approach is to never compromise on principles, but let’s look for areas we can work together to find solutions.”
Hudson cites the late North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms (R) as a personal hero, saying he was always cordial and friendly with political opponents and able to work with them on legislation without selling out his own ideals.
As an example of compromising tactics but not principles, Hudson points to his work as chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee overseeing the Transportation Security Administration. One of Hudson’s leading goals, he said, is to privatize TSA screeners.
However, realizing that the Senate would never consider, let alone pass, such a change, his office decided to focus on acquisition reform. An aggressive campaign on that issue led his Transportation Security Acquisition Reform Act to unanimously pass out of the Homeland Security Committee in October.
“It’s not something that’s gonna get me on the front page of newspapers, but it’s an issue where I’ve got the Democrats working with me,” he said. “That, to me, is the model: finding areas where we can agree to make reforms.”
Hudson ran on lowering the national debt and says his top policy goal for his congressional career is to be involved in a long-term reform of Social Security and other entitlement programs. Like many Republicans, this outlook has given him a mixed attitude on the spending sequester which took effect last spring.
Even though he dislikes the significant cuts to defense that the sequester involves, Hudson says the only thing worse would be to make no cuts at all.
“This is two years in a row, for the first time since the Korean War, that we’ve had real cuts to spending, and I’m not willing to give that up,” he said.
Though his career has been defined by political involvement, Hudson says he intends to have a “life after Congress” and wants to return to communications consulting when his time in the House is up. When he departs, Hudson says his chief goal is not a political one but a personal one.
“The most important thing is, when I’m done here, people can say ‘He was a person of integrity. He was a person who worked for solutions, who when he gave his word, you could trust him, who worked hard for his constituents.”