On Election Day, former congressional aide Rob Woodall got the job most Capitol Hill staffers secretly covet: the boss’s. The conservative Republican is likely to succeed retiring Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., whom Woodall worked for as chief of staff and legislative aide for 16 years. Woodall prevailed in a hotly contested primary over the summer, which all but assured him victory in this GOP-dominated district in exurban Atlanta.
Woodall was born in Athens, Ga., the college town where his parents were finishing their studies at the University of Georgia. The family later moved to Avondale, Ga. His father was an entomologist who would take Rob and his older sister on expeditions to collect bugs in swampy areas. His parents now own his grandparents’ farm, where they raise organic beef. Woodall calls his father a “rock” who still “throws hay and wrestles goats.” The family was of modest means, shopped at Goodwill stores and drove used cars. “Nobody squeezes a nickel harder than I do,” Woodall said in an interview. When he worked for Linder in Washington, he sometimes slept on a foam mat in a supply closet in the Longworth House Office Building and showered at the House gym.
Woodall went to college on a ROTC scholarship and worked summers to pay his expenses, including a stint on the assembly line at an RC Cola bottling plant. While in law school, he clerked for a firm in Washington, D.C., where he worked on issues related to President Clinton’s energy policy and then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health care initiative. He fell in love with being on the front lines of national policymaking, and worked out a deal with the dean of the University of Georgia School of Law to allow him to finish his degree in Washington. In 1994, Woodall left his job at the law firm and took a 50-percent pay cut to go to work as a legislative aide for Linder. He rose to chief of staff in 2000.
Woodall embraces the tea-party movement’s principles of limited government, strict constitutional constructionism, and fiscal responsibility. “Uniting around those three principles so appeals to me,” he said, adding that adherents get a bum rap for being uncaring. “Just because we don’t want the government to do something doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done,” Woodall said. He would also like to shift some of the federal government’s powers to the states. He supports repeal of President Obama’s health-care overhaul and tougher measures to deal with illegal immigration, including “sealing” the border with Mexico to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs.
Like Linder, Woodall’s main issue is the current tax code. He calls the tax code “a monstrosity” that should be done away with and replaced with a national sales tax, which he refers to as the “fair tax.” Woodall contributed to the book that Linder and Neal Boortz published called “The FairTax Book,” which was a New York Times bestseller in 2005. Studies show that a national sales tax would have to be around 23 percent in order to produce the same revenue as current federal taxes. Woodall said the tax code punishes productivity and encourages debt and that a national sales tax would boost the rate of personal savings and shift the country from its position as the largest consumer in the world to the largest producer in the world.
He became a candidate for the House after Linder announced his retirement in February 2010 after 18 years of service. Eight candidates entered the GOP primary in July. Woodall and radio talk show host Jody Hice received the most votes, but neither attained the 50-percent threshold necessary to avoid a runoff. Hice was able to self-fund his campaign and had more money to spend than Woodall. Both candidates courted support from tea-party groups. After Hice bought billboards sporting a Soviet-era hammer and sickle, and depicting Obama as a socialist, he won most of the tea-party endorsements. Woodall, who was endorsed by Linder and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said he had no hard feelings, saying, “I love the tea party.” He won the August runoff election, 56-44 percent, and subsequently had little trouble dispatching his Democratic opponent, financial services manager Douglas Heckman.