The first time Chris Dudley lobbied the governor, he was just 12 or 13 years old.
He wanted to talk about education, so he set up a meeting. His father, Fred Dudley, was in the Florida House at the time. He remembered getting a call from the Governor’s Office to confirm his son’s appointment.
“We were amazed,” the elder Dudley said recently. “He liked the political process and he was willing to wade in.”
He may have seemed like a natural at the time, but Chris said he wasn’t always sure he wanted to be in the game. Since his father was first elected when he and his brother were teens, they spent much of their adolescence around it.
“I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I spent three years volunteering at Shriners Hospital; that’s when I realized how bad I was at math and science,” said Chris, a managing partner at Southern Strategy Group. “I think I naturally gravitated back to politics. I enjoyed the people. I enjoyed watching my dad solve problems for people. Today, I tell people if I didn’t need to work another day in my life financially, I think this is still what I would do.”
Both Chris and his older brother, Charlie Dudley, the managing partner of Floridian Partners, are prominent members of the Tallahassee lobby corps. Fred, who left the Florida Senate in 1998 to run for Attorney General, is a Tallahassee attorney.
Fred was first elected to the Florida House in 1982. Charlie Dudley said he would walk the district with his dad and spend his nights and weekends at speeches and campaign events. He would continue to do that throughout middle and high school, before going to off to college and law school.
Charlie was the first to make the leap into the lobby corps. He decided to stay in Tallahassee after graduating from law school. He already had a job with the Florida Cable and Telecommunications Association. His dad was still in office at the time, but Charlie said he was “such a junior lobbyist” that he didn’t have to worry about what his dad was doing. He said he never lobbied him, but occasionally they were on opposite sides of an issue.
Chris got in the game after several years working for the state of Florida, including a stint as an assistant to the chief of staff and deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Jeb Bush. The transition from the public sector was tough, but he said father gave him “a lot of great advice.”
That advice, both men said, included the admonition to always read a bill and to listen more than you talk.
“You have two ears and one mouth for a reason,” said Chris. “You don’t need talk all the time. The most important thing you can do is (listen).”
And decades of working at competing firms may have some perks. While the Dudley brothers occasionally talk to their dad about issues on their plate, they don’t talk about work when they’re together.
By: Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster