A stack of photos sits on the counter in the Hulshofs’ dining room. Among them, only one will become the face of a Christmas card the family will send out to 4,000 people.
The chosen photo is a standard black-and-white shot. Casey, 6, and Hanna, 3, sit in front of their dad, Kenny, and beside their mom, Renee. All have picture-perfect smiles, their eyes forward, placed against a soft white background.
Shuffle through a couple of others, and there’s another picture of dad. This time, he’s lying on his stomach alongside his two daughters, their eyes everywhere but on the camera. Their faces feature wide grins that can only be caught mid-laughter.
“That’s the smile you don’t see on the campaign trail,” Renee Hulshof said.
Family, she said, is her husband’s priority.
Kenny Hulshof was born in 1958, the only son to Paul and Geri Hulshof. His childhood was a happy one, he said. He grew up on a farm a quarter-mile away from the nearest neighbor. His father taught him the ins and outs of harvest and planting season and about working hard and doing things yourself.
“Growing up on a farm — I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” he said.
He was the first baseman for his high school baseball team, his wife said, and after being scouted, he had to choose between getting an education or chasing the baseball dream.
He chose to attend MU, where he studied agriculture and economics. After graduating in 1980, he attended the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he got a law degree in 1983.
He worked as a public defender before switching to prosecution. For nearly seven years, he worked as special prosecutor in the Missouri attorney general’s office, handling more than 60 felony jury trials and specializing in the prosecution of murder cases. While there, he met and began dating Renee Howell.
The couple dated for 3 ½ years before getting engaged. Amidst wedding plans, the 9th District Republican Committee surprised them by asking Kenny Hulshof to take the place of Rick Hardy, who had withdrawn from the 1994 U.S. House of Representatives race. He agreed.
“It was more than just an opportunity to run,” he said. “I still believe that good government is made up of people who want to create a positive change.”
Kenny Hulshof lost the election to incumbent Democrat Harold Volkmer by only 5 percentage points.
He decided to run again in 1996. This time, he defeated Volkmer.
“He really felt that this is what he needed to be doing,” Renee Hulshof said. “He really thought he could make a difference.”
Plans were in the works for him to challenge Matt Blunt for the Republican seat for governor in 2004. After his father died of a heart attack on Nov. 22, 2002, however, a devastated Hulshof stepped back.
The decision was immediate, his wife said. He dropped his bid for governor and returned to his family farm to help his mother and to learn how to run the 474-acre corn and soybean farm in southeast Missouri.
“Nothing else was important then,” his wife said. “Nothing else but taking care of his mother, taking care of his father’s legacy.”
After his mother died in 2004, he decided to keep the farm. He hired a full-time farmhand to do daily maintenance and provide extra help for harvest and planting seasons.
Now, Hulshof said, he takes nothing for granted.
He commutes back and forth between his home in Columbia and Washington, D.C., sneaking away to the farm as often as he can and devoting extra time when it’s harvest or planting season.
The Hulshofs belong to St. Thomas More Newman Center, and Hulshof said they anchor themselves in their Catholic faith.
In Congress, Kenny Hulshof serves on the Ways and Means Committee, the Budget Committee and the Republican Policy Committee. He served on the House Ethics Committee and participated in a controversial investigation of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in 1994 but was kicked off the committee in the aftermath.
He is the drummer for a band made up of congressmen called the Second Amendments, plays on a congressional baseball team and runs in the annual 5K fundraising event in Washington, D.C.
His favorite activity, however, is playing with his daughters.
After a long day, Renee Hulshof said, he will come home, and that’s the only thing he’ll want to do.
“It’s his release,” she said. “He coaxes them out of their bad mood in a way I can’t.”
“He doesn’t define himself as ‘congressman,’” she said. “He’s Casey’s dad. He’s Hanna’s dad. He’s my husband. He’s a public servant.”
CAMPAIGN PHONE: 256-5211
CAMPAIGN WEB SITE: hulshof.org
POSITION SOUGHT: U.S. House of Representatives for Missouri’s 9th District
PERSONAL: 48 years old; he and his wife, Renee, have two daughters.
OCCUPATION: Incumbent U.S. representative, having served since 1997. He also owns a farm. As an attorney, he served as a special prosecutor for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, specializing in murder cases. He also has worked as a public defender.
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from MU in 1980; law degree from the University of Mississippi in 1983.
BACKGROUND: Active at the Newman Center. Enjoys spending time with his children, watching MU football and working on the farm.