Hudson to Emanuel voters: ‘I care about rural Georgia’



TJ Hudson, an African American probate judge from Treutlen County, has a simple but powerful message for Emanuel County voters ahead of the Georgia Secretary of State’s primary race next year: born and raised in rural Georgia, he’s the best pick for the job. The 45-year-old announced his candidacy for the state office in charge of elections last Monday, April 20.


Hudson is a product of Treutlen High School’s Class of 1994. He is currently working to complete the remaining four classes required to obtain his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Middle Georgia State University.


The father of one, Tori Elliott, says his career began after he came home from college in 1999. At that time, he began working for Sheriff Wayne Hooks and spent three years under his direction, then worked for the new sheriff, Tommy Corbin, for a few months. In 2004, after much encouragement from people in his life, he ran for probate judge.


“Sheriff Corbin and Captain Don Quick, they saw me working for the sheriff’s office as a jailer and thought I had more in me. They definitely pushed me in the direction of probate judge. They knew I had the potential to do more,” Hudson said.


He was an underdog in that race, yet he won the good, old-fashioned way: going door to door, asking for votes. Today, he has held the position of Treutlen County Probate Judge for 17 years, having beaten out three Caucasian opponents throughout the initial campaign and his second term to become the top vote getter in the county.


Since assuming the role of probate judge in Treutlen, he, like many other probate judges in small communities, has assumed the duties of running elections. Hudson cites his 17 years of doing that as plenty of experience to run state elections. As the designated official, he has seen many changes in regard to the way elections are ran since he took over in 2004, most notably the evolution of technology and how it works hand-in-hand with elections.


“When I first went in as probate judge, we didn’t even have computers. It took days to do warrants. It wasn’t as demanding back then as it is now. We used Elections Systems & Software (ES&S) when I went into office. I learned that system like the back of my hand. When we swapped to Dominion in 2019 and started using it last year, I learned that system, too.”


Another integral part of elections Hudson takes seriously is more than what meets the eye for the general public on Election Day. He works year-round to make sure every time the polls open goes off without a hitch, starting with ensuring all high school seniors 17-years-old and up are eligible to vote. He also knows how to set up the machines, makes sure election signs are in the proper places, trains poll workers and other election officials, maintains the required accreditation hours for certification, and opens the polls on Election Day. Most importantly, he has developed the ability through firsthand experience to think on the fly, an important quality he feels the Georgia Secretary of State should have. Hudson recalled an instance during his tenure in which a natural disaster threw a wrench in normal operations.


“The lights went out and a tornado ripped apart a precinct on Election Day. We had to think on the fly. We went and got generators and set up shop in a building next door within a matter of hours so the election could go on.”


That, in a nutshell, is the epitome of what he feels he brings to the table.


“Georgians have always said experience matters, and that’s what I have: experience. The other three candidates can’t get what I have—17 years of experience—by this time next year,” he said. “I know elections backwards and forwards. I’ve always ran fair elections. I’ve been involved in elections in Wheeler, Montgomery, and Treutlen. I’ve even helped out in Laurens; when the secretary of state’s office didn’t provide enough preparation in November 2020, they called me and I went up there and assisted them. The other three candidates, I doubt they even know where the power button is on the voting machine. I have the experience, the knowledge, the skills, a proven track record, and I’m hands-on. When I was president of the Council of Probate Court Judges, I visited all 159 counties in 37 calendar days. If I have to go to each county and assist them with elections so they’re comfortable, I’m willing to do that.”


Similarly to his decision to run for probate judge, his decision to run for a statewide office came with considerable encouragement. He says he made a promise to Captain Quick that if the time ever came that he went as high as he could go within the office of probate judge, he would push himself to find what was next.


The definitive moment happened a few years ago. On December 22, 2017, Hudson was involved in a head-on collision as a result of another driver texting while behind the wheel. That driver lost her life, and Hudson sustained significant injuries. Doctors told him there was no way he should’ve survived, and they predicted he’d never walk again. “Pure grit and determination,” along with what he believes is a divine purpose, propelled him beyond the projected limitations.


“I honestly believe God said, ‘There’s more for you to do. I’m not finished with you yet,” Hudson explained. Lying in bed after several surgeries, he decided to run for state office. Specifically, Hudson set his sights on secretary of state because of the capacity’s responsibility to oversee elections. That moment, he added, transpired before the largest election in American history would plague rural Georgia with so many problems.


When asked what changes he hopes to make, should he win the primary and go on to win the general, Hudson replied, “Would I consider changing the voting system? I’d put a committee together. If that committee recommended we leave the system we used this past election, I would take that advice. In my opinion, ES&S was a better system than Dominion. I had already decided to run back in 2017, but when I saw what was going on with the elections this past year, I took it personally. Georgia was tagged, and I feel like election officials should have some kind of experience. I have that.”


When asked how he feels he will differ from current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Hudson put it simply. “I’m not an engineer. I’m a judge with election experience. That’s something he doesn’t have. If I want a house built, yes, I’d go see him... But if you want elections ran successfully here in the state of Georgia, I’m your guy!”


The calendar hasn’t been published yet, but the primary will likely take place sometime in May 2022 with the general election to follow Tuesday, November 8. Hudson had to give up his probate judgeship to pursue the state office, and while he will miss the position and the ability it gives him to help people at home every day, he’s looking to the future with tons of support already. The end goal is to continue helping people right here at home every day—just in a bigger way. Hudson says he comes from “Outlaw Avenue,” and he also sees this as an opportunity to give kids hope and show them that they, too, can overcome adversity with a little hard work and perseverance. Additionally, he gave an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week and he was called an “underdog” in the report. All of those reasons combined have resulted in him hitting the ground running.


In closing, Hudson has a short message to Emanuel County. He says he has worked closely with the probate and magistrate offices here over the years, and he feels strongly they, along with other election officials elsewhere, will testify that he is hands-on like he says as well as trustworthy, sincere, and dependable. Hudson also calls himself “someone from rural Georgia, just like you.”


“I’m someone you can always pick up the phone and call. I won’t send you to the system. I care about our community. No, I’m not from Emanuel, but I’m just a hop, skip, and a jump away. I’m from a rural community just like yours, and I’m just one county over. I care about rural Georgia. You can always come see me. I’m right next door. Politicians today, they want rural Georgia’s vote, they get rural Georgia’s vote, and then we never hear from them again. I love rural Georgia more than you know. I want to make everyone proud. When’s the last time you had someone like you representing you? I announced my candidacy last week, and I’ve had so much support already. That means the world to me.”


As for what you can expect out of him on the campaign trail, Hudson says you’ll see him “all over the state” leading up to the election. He also says there won’t be any negativity coming out of his camp.


“I’ve always been the underdog. When I ran for probate judge, I was told I wouldn’t win. When I had my accident, I was told I wouldn’t walk again. Being called an underdog doesn’t bother me; it makes me work harder,” Hudson said. “My strategy is going to be promoting TJ. I’m going to be at events all over the place, letting people get to know me and determine for themselves if I’m the right person for the job. I’m going to shake people’s hands, look them in the eye, and ask them for votes. You won’t see any negative campaigning because I’m not running against the current secretary of state or against anybody else; I’m running for Georgia Secretary of State. That’s it. I don’t want people to focus on other people’s bad, whatever that may be. I’m not getting into that. I want them to focus on my good and what I can bring to the table—and in my opinion, I bring a lot.”


If you’d like to follow Hudson’s campaign or to get in touch with him, visit tjforgeorgia.com or go to TJ for GA on social media.

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