Hudson Discusses Changing Face of Virginia Politics and Realities of Policy Making


The national State Politics and Policy Conference kicked off last night with a dinner in the newly opened Student Health and Wellness Building, featuring Sally Hudson as the keynote speaker. Hudson is a labor economist, politician and political reformer who teaches at the Batten School and served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2020 to 2024. Outside the classroom, she consults with government agencies, NGOs and philanthropists to research and improve the delivery of public service. Her keynote, “10 Takes from the Trenches,” focused on her time in state office and drew both applause and chuckles.

“As a young assistant professor, Sally wasn’t satisfied with just studying policy challenges when she could be more deeply involved in addressing them and solving them,” said Batten Professor of Public Policy and Politics and Co-Director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking Craig Volden. “For this audience, Justin (Kirkland) and I could not think of a better speaker to connect our academic world to the political and policy world that we care so much about.”

Hudson 2
Co-Director of CEL and Professor Craig Volden introduces Hudson for her keynote. 

Earning her Ph.D. in Economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Stanford University, Hudson described her arrival in Virginia and her first day on Grounds at UVA in 2016, juxtaposing it against the history of women at the university and in elected office in the commonwealth. Fast forward three years, and she was elected to Thomas Jefferson’s former seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates, the first woman to hold that office.

“It took a long time for the Old Dominion to find a place for women in our public universities,” said Hudson. “It took an even longer time for us to find a place for women in public service.”

Sharing a handful of experiences while in office, Hudson described an extraordinary time of turnover in the complexion of representation in Virginia, which she said made it more reflective of the actual population and its changing demographics. It was also a time of great democratic reform, according to Hudson, beginning with the 2017 blue wave of Ralph Northam’s election as governor and 15 seats in the General Assembly, and the blue trifecta in 2019 in which six seats flipped. 

In addition to gaining successes on early voting, automatic registration and other democratic reforms, Hudson said the most intense professional chapter of her career was working on the constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering, which led to dramatic changes including the rise in representation by women, and even more so, in non-white candidates.

With her “10 Takes from the Trenches,” Hudson distilled her personal experiences into ten key takeaways that came from her four years of serving in state office. Revealing, relevant, and witty at times, Hudson’s talk drew thanks from her audience and elicited additional questions.

The conference continues through Sunday on Grounds, bringing together nearly 150 university researchers for “Effective Governing and Representation in the American States.” It is part of the American Political Science Association, the leading professional organization for the study of political science serving more than 11,000 members in more than 100 countries.



Garrett Hall at Sunset

Stay Up To Date with the Latest Batten News and Events