Del. Sally Hudson on Pets, Politics, Reproductive Freedom, and More

Virginia Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, gestures during debate on an abortion bill during the House session at the Capitol Tuesday Feb. 15, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Meghin Moore

June 9, 2023

“This is one of the Democratic strongholds on the state senate map. and it needs a senator who is willing to set the pace for change in Virginia.”

Del. Sally Hudson has been hard at work for her constituents in Virginia’s 57th House District since 2020, and now she’s set her sights on the Virginia state Senate. She’s running against incumbent Sen. Creigh Deeds, a man she has a lot of respect for, in the June 20 primary for the Charlottesville-area Senate District 11. Dogwood sat down with her recently to discuss the race, her accomplishments as a lawmaker, and the general political lay of the land in Richmond.

But first, we asked her about pets.

Sally Hudson does not currently have one, but she wants a rescue dog. As she’s settled into the General Assembly life, she thinks that this is the summer where she has finally figured out how to make it work. 

“I think there’s a dog adoption before me on the other side of this campaign.”

She would like to adopt a pit bull mix, because they’re so loyal, sweet, and cuddly. 

As a state legislator, Hudson describes herself as an easily accessible lawmaker with a lot of passion for the job. She believes that elected officials have the ability to be a “walking, talking billboard for state government.” She wants to help pull more people into the process and help them understand how they can make change happen.

“I think there’s too many people who do the job quietly, and that has consequences for whether we win elections; which projects float to the top of the list. I think that being an active, publicly engaged legislator has practical consequences for how much work we get done,” she said.

To help learn more about her constituents, she has been hosting small group meetings, also known as “block parties,” throughout the district.

“I am a deep believer that democracy works best when people can ask real questions in person and hear good answers.”

That’s a huge part of why her campaign has been structured around the small group meetings, which helps locals really get a chance to meet the legislator, to ask questions, and to speak out about what issues they care most about. Because of that, she says, people get really excited to engage and learn more.

“We look at the rosters of folks who come out to these events, that one in four of the people who come to one of these conversations has never voted in a state primary before,” Hudson continued, noting that a lot of folks who come out are also “frequent fliers” who do this sort of thing every year. 

Hudson believes that she’s one of the most effective legislators when it comes to abortion access; she was named Virginia’s Legislator of the Year in 2021 by NARAL Virginia (now REPRO Rising Virginia).

“I was NARAL’s ‘Defender of Choice’ for my work to expand insurance coverage for abortion care, because abortion rights don’t matter if you can’t actually afford the procedure if you need one,” she said.

“I think that’s the kind of work that gets done when we elect women who may still need to exercise their reproductive rights someday.”

Hudson has also been working hard on environmental advocacy and energy reform.

“I carried legislation to cut coal subsidies, which have been propping up coal fired power plants that have been losing money for too long and belching smoke into the air, and has been knee deep in all the negotiations around trying to finally get us to some accountability around our energy sector so that we can start investing in clean energy at the pace that the planet requires,” she said. 

When it comes to issues like affordable housing, education investment, and other issues, Hudson noted things “really stalled,” which is why she is hopeful that Democrats will take back the House in November.

“I think it’s an extraordinary blessing to serve this community, which is so diverse and talented and engaged,” she said, “And my favorite thing about serving is getting the opportunity to support so many people here, in carrying their visions for progress to Richmond, and turning those projects into reality.”

One of the projects she named was the removal of Confederate statues in public places
“That was movement work, led by so many people in this community [that] it required legislative action.” 

Being a member of the General Assembly does have its challenges. Hudson loves serving in the legislature, but one of the hardest parts for her is having to do two jobs.

“It’s tough to give this job all of the energy that it deserves, while also holding down a job that pays the bills,” Hudson, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, told us.

The lack of a finalized state budget agreement has been on the minds of all lawmakers in the General Assembly, especially as the July 1 fiscal new year looms ever closer, but Hudson isn’t fixated on the stalemate.

“Most of the important things that we can do to raise wages [and] reduce the cost of living don’t run through the state budget,” she noted, referencing the stalled negotiations at the state capitol.

“If you gave me the top five things that I can do to help Virginians make ends meet…they would have a lot more to do with empowering workers, and increasing housing and construction and critical investments for people who are public employees, particularly public school teachers, health care workers who rely on Medicaid reimbursement rates, and state employees. For those people, the state budget is critical.”

She noted that the tax cuts in the proposed budget wouldn’t do much for the average Virginian.

“The tax cuts that he’s proposing would result in a $50 cut for the average Virginian, so there’s not a lot of pocketbook relief in the state budget negotiations.”

Hudson is proud of her own work to help improve Virginians’ financial footing. In 2021, she helped pass legislation that has helped secure more than $220 million in debt relief for people who got stuck in “overpayment traps” at the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC).

“That’s the kind of work you get done when you send a labor economist to Richmond.”

As an educator, Hudson has watched book ban debates unfold with great dismay. She believes that books are supposed to stretch your brain, especially when encountering uncomfortable ideas. 

“Books are the safest way to encounter uncomfortable ideas…We should want children to encounter challenging, gnarly topics in books first, because when people have to encounter challenging, gnarly topics by surprise in person, we call that trauma. More people should have the luxury of encountering big problems in writing first.”

When asked about what her favorite banned book is, she noted that it’s Beloved, by Toni Morrison – but it’s not her favorite Morrison book.

Jazz is my favorite Toni Morrison book. And that book is not banned – yet. [Morrison] can stop your heart. That woman could say things in a way that just turns your brain upside down for a lifetime.”

When it comes to education, there is no substitute for excellent teachers who can help their students power through any challenges they face.

“There is no quick fix solution to schooling children besides putting an excellent educator in every classroom and giving them the time, resources, training, and support that they need to do their best work.”

To her, one of the biggest questions she thinks about when it comes to teaching are how to train, retain, and develop good educators.

“Until there is a qualified, supportive, passionate educator in every classroom, we can’t give every kid the education they deserve. And so the question should always be about how do we do everything in a deep understanding of what makes people want to become teachers and want to stay teachers?”

She’d love for her fellow General Assembly legislators to sit in a classroom, or even try to prepare a classroom lesson plan.

“I think people dramatically underestimate how much time it takes to prepare to talk to other people well, for even ten minutes – let alone 45 minutes, six times a day. And if they did, I think they would radically rethink what they expect of teachers’ contract hours.”

She knows what it’s like to put in hours of time just to craft the perfect lecture, and she wishes that K-12 instructors had more time just to prep their classes and curriculum.

“I know for sure that plenty of my colleagues in the General Assembly couldn’t really hold somebody else’s attention for 15 minutes, and so the fact that they expect that of other people for six hours a day without protecting and investing in the time and resources that they need to do curriculum development is crazy.”

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