The two candidates running for Congress in the 8th District paint radically different pictures of each other in what has become a polarized election campaign.
Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson is being challenged by Democrat Thomas Mills for re-election to a third term. Moore County was moved to the 8th District under redrawn maps enacted by the N.C. General Assembly in February. Moore County was previously in the 2nd District, represented by Republican Renee Ellmers since 2010.
Hudson, 44, who lives in Concord, defeated Tim D’Annunzio in a GOP primary by a comfortable margin, but D’Annunzio actually carried Moore County.
Mills, 53, a political blogger and consultant who lives in Carrboro in Orange County, had previously filed to oppose Hudson before the the congressional district lines were changed. The 8th District includes all of Moore, Hoke, Montgomery, Stanly and Cabarrus counties, and part of Cumberland and Rowan counties.
Hudson touts his recent ranking by the National Journal as the 12th most conservative member of Congress during the 2013-2014 session as well as his ability to work across the aisle. He adds that the late U.S. Rep. Howard Coble is his role model when it comes to constituent services and being visible in the district. Coble represented Moore County until 2010.
“To be relevant in the district, you need to be seen in the district,” Hudson says. “Everyone won’t always agree with me, but they will know where I stand.”
He notes that Mills does not live in the district. Candidates are not required under state law to live in the districts they seek to represent.
Mills counters that Hudson is the “poster boy” for what is wrong with the political system by “pandering” to his conservative base on divisive social issues and running a campaign that is fueled mostly by special interest money.
“He’s just playing the game,” Mills said in a recent interview with The Pilot. “This guy is a creation of the system. To me, he is more a symbol of the problems of the system that is rigged to protect incumbents.”
In response to Mills’ contentions about being controlled by special interest groups, Hudson pointed out that employees of many of those companies and members of the various associations representing Realtors and homebuilders, among others, are also individuals. He added that more than 2,000 individuals have donated to his campaign, many under $500.
“I am not in anyone’s pocket,” he said. “I make decisions on what I think is right, in the best interest of the district, not based on who gives me money. This campaign is about who I am and what I stand for.”
Mills says all of his contributions are from individuals and that he has not accepted any special interest money.
That fact has created a large disparity in what the two candidates have raised and have to spend on advertising.
During the current two-year election cycle from Jan. 1, 2015, through June 30 — the latest financial data available from the Federal Elections Commission — Hudson has raised $1.7 million in contributions that includes $1.13 million from political action committees and $575,000 from individuals. He started the July 1 quarter with $306,000 on hand. Mills has raised $172,171 since Oct. 1, 2015.
Time on Capitol Hill
Hudson served as district director for then-Congressman Robin Hayes from 1999 to 2005. He has also served on the congressional staffs of U.S. Reps. Virginia Foxx, of North Carolina, and John Carter and Mike Conway, both from Texas. Hayes is now chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party.
Hudson says one of the things missing in Washington is Republicans and Democrats working together to find common ground.
“When I was first elected, my wife and I would go to dinner once a week with a Democratic colleague,” he said. “Anyone who is elected to Congress comes with good intentions to serve their country and their district. We come from different backgrounds and bring different approaches.”
Hudson, who is married with a year-old son, said he had not planned to run for Congress and was comfortable “behind the scenes and helping others get elected.” He said that once he made the decision to run for Congress, he promised himself that he would not “compromise” his conservative values — which he defines as a strong military, reining in government spending, protecting the Second Amendment and building a strong economy.
One of his other role models is the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, which Hudson readily acknowledges might rub some the wrong way given his arch-conservative reputation.
“He never compromised his principles,” he said. “He was able to work across the aisle.”
Hudson said it is possible to work with Democrats to “find commonsense solutions.”
“I am willing to vote for a bill that has three things I don’t like but as four things I like.”
And Hudson said that means being willing to buck the GOP leadership in the House. He cites his four votes against raising the debt ceiling
“There were several votes where (then) Speaker Boehner brought me in his office,” he said. “I couldn’t go along with what they were doing. I will not compromise by core principles.”
One of the lightning rod issues in the campaign has been Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. Hudson said he did not agree with the former leadership’s decision to not bring forward a Republican plan to replace Obamacare after repeated votes to repeal it, which proved futile.
“Some did not like tort reform,” he said of one of the components of the plan to limit damage awards for malpractice claims.
Hudson said Republicans have a plan to replace Obamacare — which he said has been “a disaster” — that “brings market forces into health care and drives down costs.” He said it would allow companies to cross state lines to increase competition.
“It creates risk pools for high-risk people,” he said. “They’re the only ones signing up for Obamacare.”
Hudson said the plan calls for providing tax credits to allow people to take their insurance with them, allowing businesses to create insurance pools and eliminating mandates for individuals to have insurance or for businesses to provide coverage.
“You can’t drive it down overnight,” he said of the costs of coverage.
Hudson said when people pay out-of-pocket for elective procedures, they research it and “shop around.” He said that creates competition, which lowers costs.
“What if everyone had a health savings account?” he said. “You would make wiser health care decisions. … If you are poor, we would put money into it.”
As for the VA health system, Hudson said the current system as “outlived its usefulness.”
“Some good folks are providing care,” he said. “Many are vets themselves. “The bureaucracy is out of control. People are just numbers to the bureaucracy. The only way to deal with it is breaking the back of the bureaucracy and give vets a choice for their medical care and not require pre-approval to go to another doctor and have the VA pay you.”
On international issues, Hudson said the United States has had an “incoherent” foreign policy” under Obama. He said that in the Middle East, Obama drew “a line in the sand” regarding Russian involved in Syria and then backed down, allowing Russia into the region.
Hudson said each time it seems progress is being being made, “John Kerry pulls the rug out from under us because of something Russia does. … This is weak leadership.”
He added that he is not advocating sending more U.S. troops into the region, including those from nearby Fort Bragg.
“It cannot just be the U.S.,” he said. “It must be a coalition.”
He said one of the keys to defeating ISIS is having a well-trained Iraqi Army.
On the issue of immigration reform, Hudson said he advocates a comprehensive plan to secure the nation’s borders first rather than the current “patchwork” approach. He said that has to be the priority before trying to decide how to deal with the 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally.
“Americans will not tolerate anything we do until the border is secure,” he said. “We need to fix the E-verify system and have better monitoring and tracking of people here on Visas. Then we can worry about the 11 million. Obviously, we have to get the criminals out. … But we have to win the trust of the country first.”
Fighting for Change
Mills said he decided to file in the newly drawn district since no other Democrat would run against Hudson. He feels he is the “best candidate” to represent the district. In countering Hudson’s criticism that Mills does not live in the district, Mills said he grew up Wadesboro in Anson County when it was “the heart of the old 8th District.” He added that his father was a Superior Court judge who served a district that once included Moore County.
“I understand the values of this district,” Mills said.
Mills, who started a political blog called PoliticsNC in 2013, said at the time he filed in January that he “had a front row seat watching the deterioration of our political system over the past 20 years.” He said campaigns are now controlled by special interests and are “a reflection of gerrymandering” that limits competition and “protects those in power,” like Hudson.
“Campaigns are now driven by money,” Mills said. “The quality of candidates continues to go downhill partly because of, who wants to do this.”
Mills said campaigns are now dependent on third parties to raise money and that candidates have “lost control of the message.” He said he has always advocated through his blog of having quality candidates running for all offices and giving voters a choice.
“This district makes it hard,” he said of a Democrat winning. “I have been writing about it. You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. … I felt a guy like Richard Hudson does not deserve a free pass. If no one runs against him, what is the incentive to do the right thing. … Richard Hudson is not a bad person. He is a nice guy. He is a relatively smart guy. There are worse people.”
Mills said that “it is time to elect people who are straight up. If I’m in Congress, I will do what I think is right for the district. It is never an easy choice. You come under pressure from your party. You’ve got to play politics. But you have got to make decisions that are best for the country and for the district. Sometimes that may be in conflict.”
Mills said, as an example, decisions on trade agreements must be based on what is best for the district.
“We can’t stick our heads in the sand,” he said.
Mills said the country is in “a major transition” in terms of how to grow the economies in rural areas such as Robbins and Biscoe, which have been hurt by the loss of manufacturing jobs.
“There is nothing there,” he said. “Those were thriving communities.”
He said reviving manufacturing will require having the infrastructure in place. He said some believe that may mean “you have to tear up NAFTA.”
“I am for more cautious policies,” he said. “We need to look at exactly who will be hurt, not just who will be helped. … I fall on the side of working families. Our economic policies have disproportionately helped more wealthy people than working people.”
Mills said that if it is not possible to bring back manufacturing to what it once was, “we need to make sure service and technical jobs pay better.” He questioned whether that could be done without unionization, but stopped sort of advocating that since North Carolina is a “right to work” state in which an employee cannot be required to join a union.
Mills also said he supports raising the minimum wage.
“Somehow it needs to be connected to the economy,” he said. “I like the idea of a living wage. Fifteen dollars in New York and $15 in Robbins are totally different.”
Mills said many people who have jobs don’t make enough and must rely on public assistance, which he argues is “subsidizing” that company paying the lower wage.
On international issues, Mills agreed that the situation in Syria “is getting worse by the day.” He said it is also a “humanitarian crisis” that requires more than a military solution. He said more diplomatic efforts are needed, especially in dealing with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
“I don’t know how you contain him,” Mills said. “I don’t know what the answer is.”
Mills said he would not advocate more “boots on the ground” in the region. He said other countries also need to put pressure on Putin and Russia “to behave.”
Mills acknowledged that the Affordable Care Act has problems that need to fixed, but that Republicans decided to turn it into a “political issue” instead of addressing the problems.
“They pandered to their base. … They would not do anything to fix it. They control both houses of Congress. All they did was try to repeal it. This is a program that needs to be fixed. … The program they want to replace it with will cost more than Obamacare. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take coverage from 11 million people.”
Mills concluded that the country and Congress face a number of challenges in the coming years both domestically and internationally.
“We are not going to fix these things until we fix our political system,” he said. “We don’t have any accountability in Congress. We need more competitive races. We need a better class of leaders.”
Early voting for the general election begins Thursday, Oct. 20.