Paris grad is Arkansas rep

By NANCY ZEMAN nzeman@prairiepress.net
Posted 12/14/20

Ashley Welch Hudson knows the importance of one vote in winning the election — more precisely, 24 votes.

The Paris High School graduate and former Miss Edgar County Fair is one of the newest …

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Paris grad is Arkansas rep

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Ashley Welch Hudson knows the importance of one vote in winning the election — more precisely, 24 votes.

The Paris High School graduate and former Miss Edgar County Fair is one of the newest members of the Arkansas General Assembly, thanks to her narrow 24-vote victory over a third-term incumbent Republican representative, Jim Sorvillo. Hudson is the daughter of Becky Dole, formerly of Paris and stepdaughter of the late Peter Dole.

“They’re calling me Landslide Hudson,” she laughed after her first Democratic caucus last week.

Hudson, a 1997 graduate of PHS — the same year she was selected fair queen — is part of the small Democratic caucus in the Arkansas House.

“The Republicans have a super majority in both chambers but there is cooperation on both sides of the aisle depending on the issue,” she said. Areas of contention often center around typically partisan national issues. “My district tends to be more interested in kitchen table issues.”

Hudson, an attorney, went to bed on election night — and several nights after — not knowing the outcome of her race. Like most states, Arkansas experienced an increase in voters who opted to vote absentee rather than in person on election day, which meant the votes in Pulaski County were counted over the course of almost two weeks.

Throwing her hat into the ring was not an impromptu act for Hudson.

“I had been watching the race in this district the last couple of election cycles,” she said, noting her opponent’s last victory two years ago was by 800 votes out of approximately 15,000 cast. His margins of victory narrowed over each election cycle, so she felt like the seat might be vulnerable.

“You can never go into a race thinking you can’t win,” she said. “I thought I was a better candidate, so I decided to run.”

Her opponent, she noted, was notorious for voting present on many bills coming before the House. Her opponent’s death knell may have been his present vote on teacher raises.

“There was a lack of overall work in the district on his part,” she said.

A busy mother of four who is married to Cliff Hudson, who is employed by the Veteran’s Administration, Hudson said the two are a strong team.

“We talked before I made the decision, and he was with me all the way,” she said.

Her mother, Becky, lives around the corner from the Hudson home, and is available to help out with the kids. Her father, Pulaski County Ciricuit Judge Chip Welch, and her stepmother, Cheryl, are also part of Team Hudson, she said.

Hudson was raised as an Edgar County Republican — her stepfather was a former state’s attorney here.

“I volunteered to work for George W. Bush’s campaign when I was at Vanderbilt. I was a Bob Dole Republican,” she explained.

It was during law school that Hudson found her beliefs were more closely aligned with the Democratic Party.

Cliff Hudson was a U.S. Marine Corps infantry squad leader in Ramadi, Iraq in 2006, when he suffered a traumatic brain injury and PTSD after he fired a SMAW rocket to prevent his squad from being wiped out by the enemy.

Hudson campaigned on issues that were important in her district — education in the state, the healthcare system, veterans’ issues and small business tax credits. A fulltime attorney who practices for Kutak Rock, LLP, a national law firm based in Omaha, Nebraska. Hudson’s concentration is in healthcare regulatory issues and Medicaid provider licensing as well as behavioral health.

Although she won’t be sworn in until Jan. 11, Hudson has already received her committee assignments. She will be serving on Judiciary and the House Committee on Aging, Children, Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs committees. She has also attended a freshman orientation session for the Arkansas House which concentrated on rules of the chamber.

Serving as a legislator in Arkansas is a part-time position, Hudson explained, as the General Assembly meets every other year. A special session is expected in 2021 as the lawmakers consider redistricting. The legislature meets in off years for the state budget.

Hudson spent many nights outside the family home at coffees, meetings and speaking to groups, first in person and then later on Zooms. Her family was also involved in getting the word out.

“One thing I want to say is how much I appreciated the support from the people in Paris,” Hudson noted. “There were people who contributed and sent messages and texts. It meant a lot.”

Hudson has been back in her home county to visit and for high school reunions and hopes to return again — especially to see the new high school.

“We peeked in the windows last time we were in town so it would be great to see inside,” she said.

Working at home since the pandemic closed offices in March, Hudson said she often doesn’t meet those she works with as email and phone calls are how business gets done. But recently two different people whom she was working with had connections to Paris.

“I was talking to a guy and I told him he had an unusual name — Hostetler. I said I knew a family from my hometown by that name,” she said. The person on the other end of the line — David Hostetler — said he wondered if she would remember. They were classmates.

When she mentioned the funny coincidence to another contact that same day, he laughed and told her that her day had just gotten weirder – because he was a Paris High School grad, too. It was Josh Bell.

“It was bananas. Three people from Paris in three different states and we’re working together,” said Hudson. “Who would’ve thought?”