May 20 was a big night for Tyler Hudgins.
That was the evening he graduated from Mesquite High School in Gilbert, but the 18-year-old had more on his mind – tax talk at Town Hall.
He’d been to every Town Council meeting since December and he wasn’t about to miss the big one where the council was to vote on whether to raise the sales tax by a quarter-cent to help balance the upcoming budget.
Hudgins ran to his car after receiving his diploma. He hoped nobody was looking as he changed into the suit and red tie he usually wears to the council meetings.
“I was throwing my cap and gown into the car. It was so funny,” he said.
Minutes later, “I burst into the council chambers, and the police chief was right there so I asked him ‘What are they talking about?’ He said, ‘The sales tax.’ So, I said ‘Whew,”’ Hudgins recalled. He made it in time to testify in favor of the increase, which passed June 2 on a 6-1 vote.
Would he have gone to that meeting if such a crucial topic hadn’t been scheduled?
“Knowing me, I probably would,” he said.
Hudgins spends more time in the council chambers than just about anyone who isn’t on the council or the town payroll. He hopes to be a councilman himself someday, a first step to what he says will be a long and illustrious political career.
Voted “most likely to become president” by his classmates, Hudgins dreams of achieving what his idol Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain hasn’t done so far. But, for now, he’s reading “How to Get Elected to Local Office” during breaks from his job at Liberty Market. He said it’s a long road to the White House, and that’s how it should be.
“I’m stopping to study the issues that will come into play in the future,” he said. “I feel like I’m going about this the right way, by starting at the grass roots.”
Hudgins has never been a typical kid: “I swear Tyler came out of the womb a 24-year-old,” said his mother, Christine.
By age 10, he was watching the History Channel religiously. He ran for student council president in fifth grade because the only student leaders he’d known had been girls, and “I wanted to prove that guys could lead, too.”
So Hudgins gave a speech with that theme in front of the Settler’s Point Elementary School student body. His teacher later told him he won the race by the biggest margin in the school’s history.
Hudgins was active in Model United Nations throughout high school. This spring, he took second place at a college-level competition in San Francisco, taking a class at Mesa Community College to qualify for their team.
He is preparing to attend Mesa Community College in the fall. He’s also hobnobbing with his hometown’s past and present leaders, talking to council members, candidates and legislators. He’s getting to know all he can about the town’s history and power structure.
“He’s a very good networker,” said former town manager Kent Cooper, who had lunch with Hudgins last week.
With Town Councilwoman Linda Abbott’s permission, he created an apprenticeship for himself, shadowing her at public meetings.
“He’s been at council meetings, arts meetings … I’m trying to think of all the meetings I’ve seen him at,” said Abbott, who teaches government at Mesquite but never had Hudgins in any of her classes.
Hudgins campaigned this spring for now-Councilman John Sentz, helping to conduct informal polling among younger voters. But he couldn’t vote because his April 24 birthday fell a couple days after the cutoff for registering to vote in the May 19 general election.
“Words cannot describe my frustration” once he found that out, Hudgins said.
He’s applied for spots on two of the Town Council’s advisory boards, and will be interviewing for the town’s Human Relations, Culture and Arts Promotion Commission.
Hudgins doesn’t plan on following in the tracks of super-young candidates such as this year’s 20- and 21-year-old council candidates. But he wants to run soon, even if he has to put other things on the back burner.
“I’m focusing on what I want to do and nothing’s going to get in my way. A girl’s not going to get in my way, anyone opposing me in an election is not going to get in my way, nothing’s going to get in my way,’ he said.
His goal would be to move on to state or national office, but not everyone wants to see him there. Hudgins said he was surprised that after Mayor John Lewis took the oath of office June 16, his was the first hand that Lewis shook.
“He said he wanted me to stick around in local government,” Hudgins said.