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County Republicans to decide future this week

Story by Chris Graham

This has been coming for some time. You could say dating back to the walkup to the 2007 Republican Party primary that saw Scott Sayre challenge Emmett Hanger for the 24th District GOP nomination, though I think it was significantly before that.

The discord between Hanger, who held off Sayre’s challenge and won a fourth term in the Virginia Senate in November, and Augusta County Republican Committee chair Kurt Michael goes back a few years, at least.

I thought whatever issues there were between the two – really between two camps around Hanger and Michael, because it seems to me to be a lot bigger than just the two individuals at the heart of the matter themselves – would quietly die down after Michael endorsed Hanger in his general-election bid last fall.

But they didn’t, and Michael is facing a challenge of his own for the chairmanship of the local GOP committee. Five people are challenging Michael for the chair position, including Sen. Hanger’s wife, Sharon, former Hanger campaign manager Vickie Parkinson and Steve Kijak, a local Republican Party blogger and county GOP activist.

The committee will select new leadership at a mass meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Augusta County Government Center in Verona.

Perspective on how things will turn out at the meeting varies depending on who it is that you’re talking to.

“It has almost nothing to do with philosophy,” said Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, whose House of Delegates district represents a good-sized portion of Augusta County.

“The people who are running, who have shown interest in running the party from the other side, are just as conservative, if not more so, than the people who are currently holding those positions. It’s not philosophical. They’re both center-right to the right wing of the party. This is not a center-versus-right issue. This is more of a spillover from the primary campaign back in 2007 that just hasn’t gone by the wayside. People have tried to make amends. It just hasn’t gone well. And this is what we’re left with. And it’s going to settle itself out,” Saxman said.

Just as Saxman thinks things will settle themselves out, Hanger is not so sure that this can be the case anytime soon.

“I would like to see things worked out, but it will take some time. I don’t see it being cleared up in this next series of mass meetings. Hopefully there can be some improvement, but it took some time to get here. I guess if I made a mistake, it was in being so busy with the position that I held and doing other things and allowing people to basically build their own little power structures here that over time I think have fallen out of line with the best interests of the area,” Hanger said.
“It’s not exclusive to our area. It’s a little more broadspread than that. But I think we really need to reflect within the Republican Party about why we exist and get back to those principles that are fundamental to the Republican Party,” Hanger said. “Throughout the state we have people who have taken unit-leadership positions at all levels and the State Central Committee, whose mission, it seems, and whose goal seems to perpetuate themselves and their power base rather than to promote the goals of the party and good candidates for elected office. So we’re going to have to address that. There should always be room for good debate and difference of opinion, and if in fact the Republican Party is going to be the majority party in Virginia, we’re going to have to make sure that we broaden our base rather than making it an exclusive club.”

I tried to make contact with Michael via e-mail to get his thoughts on the matter, but was not able to get in touch with him. I did get Kijak to offer comments by e-mail. In our e-mail exchange, Kijak noted that he had been among those in the local GOP who supported Sayre in his Senate-nomination bid last spring.

“Sayre made a great run at it and came very close to winning the election. Afterwards I worked to promote the Republican candidate, Emmett Hanger, in his race against the Democratic Party candidate David Cox and Libertarian Aaron Sime, which Hanger did win,” Kijak said by e-mail.

“Many people found it interesting that I had worked the Sayre campaign hard and then continued to work hard for Hanger once he was elected as the Republican candidate. The key issue here is that I supported and worked for the Republican candidate which was the better person for the job as compared to the Democratic and Libertarian candidates. I do not agree with Sen. Hanger on all issues or his votes, and he knows that. But I can have a detailed discussion and exchange of facts and viewpoints with the senator which benefits both of us as well as the Republican Party,” Kijak said.

Kijak is careful to play down the apparent tensions in the county GOP as being a political controversy. He thinks instead that the ongoing discussion is in fact good in that it is bringing to light “issues that need to be dealt with.”

“By no means are any groups perfectly operated, and there are always numerous viewpoints and opinions on how issues should be handled,” Kijak said by e-mail. “By allowing open discussion and the voting process is how a party becomes and remains strong. It is the combined strengths of those within the committee and the party which moves the party forward in its efforts to elect and advance conservative Republican candidates to local and state offices. The party can and will ‘come together’ once all involved are provided the opportunity to sit down together, take possession for what they have done and said, and accept the others viewpoint as a tool to make the party stronger and unified,” Kijak said.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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