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Hanger mulling over statewide-office run

Story by Chris Graham

Emmett Hanger is sure of one thing – he hasn’t changed since his first run for elected office in 1979.
And if you ask him, if anything has changed in the past three decades, it’s the Republican Party that he has trumpeted since the days when the Valley GOP could almost hold its meetings in a phone booth.

“I’m still basically where I was at – which is a reasoned conservatism, a fiscal conservatism. But I believe in paying your bills,” said Hanger, who won re-election to his 24th Senate District seat in a three-way race in the Nov. 7 election that saw him get more than 65 percent of the votes cast – which was a lot more in the way of comfortable compared to his narrow six-point win in a tight June GOP primary race with Rockbridge County businessman Scott Sayre.

Sayre challenged Hanger from the right focusing much of his attention on the senator’s support of the 2004 budget reform initiated by then-governor Mark Warner that resulted in increases in sales and cigarette taxes in the Commonwealth.

Hanger has long decried the vocal antitax wing of the Republican Party that he says is to blame for the spiraling federal-budget deficit – “and I think in large part that influence of lack of fiscal responsibility at the federal level kind of fed back into Virginia, and really erased some of our credibility on fiscal matters,” Hanger said in an interview with “The Augusta Free Press Show” this week.

Hanger was also under fire locally for his push for legislation that would open the way to allowing illegal immigrants in Virginia who meet certain strict criteria to qualify for in-state tuition to state colleges and universities – which he found ironic, he said, given that “I’ve always been one of the leaders (in the General Assembly) on social conservatism.”

Hanger said that if the GOP is “going to reestablish itself as the majority party, some of us are going to have to enter the debate in a more meaningful way statewide and really reenergize what I think is a strong base in the Republican Party.”

“An overwhelming majority of Virginians, I think, identify with our platform – but we’ve been positioned so that the Republican Party has been portrayed as being a bit extreme in some areas,” said Hanger, who is mulling over the idea of running for statewide office in 2009 to put himself in a position to be a leader in that debate.

“That’s certainly something that I won’t rule out,” Hanger said.

“Really what it boils down to is I’ve had an opportunity to be a part of leadership that has set policy statewide in a number of areas. And actually the fact that we’re no longer in control of the Senate may in fact encourage me more to seek a statewide platform. We’ll just have to wait and see on that,” Hanger said.

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

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