Story by Chris Graham
Emmett Hanger is not going to be pushed around by the local Republican Party apparatus.
“A lot of attention has been paid to the fact that there are individuals within the Republican Party in leadership positions who are not supporting me,” said Hanger, a three-term incumbent state senator who formally kicked off his campaign for the GOP nomination in the 24th Senate District today with events in Augusta County and Rockingham County.
His opponent, Buena Vista businessman Scott Sayre, has the support of the Republican Party chairs in Augusta, Rockingham and the city of Staunton. Hanger has the support of some heavy hitters of his own – joining him at his campaign kickoffs today were several elected members of the Augusta and Rockingham boards of supervisors, including board chairs Nancy Sorrells in Augusta County and Billy Kyger in Rockingham County.
“I’ve gone to the community leaders because I think they’re more significant than the members of local parties who find themselves in offices at any particular point in time – because those are somewhat thankless jobs that we kind of hand over to anybody who says they want them,” Hanger said in an interview with The New Dominion this afternoon.
“We have a situation right now where we have several chairs who have agendas of their own,” said Hanger, who has been in the crosshairs of antitax Republicans dating back to his work on a tax-reform effort that in 2004 was melded into a billion-dollar state tax increase championed by Democratic governor Mark Warner.
“This isn’t unique to our area. It is a dynamic that’s happened within the party statewide – in that you have people who have taken on these positions who have agendas, and they communicate a lot through the Internet, through blogs and that type of thing, and they are influenced significantly by these antitax groups, and they’ve had a tremendous influence on our party at the national level, and not in a positive way.
“They have caused, I think, the focus of the Republican Party to be much, much too narrow. Fiscal responsibility is a much broader topic than just being opposed to taxes,” Hanger said.
On the tax-reform issue and others that Hanger has been working on since taking office in 1996, “this is a matter of unfinished work,” the senator said of his decision to seek another term in Richmond.
“Sometimes it’s easy when you step out front to be criticized – and that obviously has happened here,” Hanger said. “But the net result of tax reform has been very positive for our area in that overall it provides for a net tax reduction for our area. And statewide, it provided for a lot of financial stability, in that we were able to firm up our credit ratings, meet our obligations to local governments, to take some of the pressure off locally generated taxes. But there’s still work to be done.
“After the years that I have spent there, I’m in, I think, a pretty good position to be effective not only for the area but for the entire state, in terms of policies that we can work on,” Hanger said.
“I’ve been able to be involved in a lot of things that I believe are major initatives in which I was playing somewhat of a lead role – and while we’ve been able to accomplish a lot of good in terms of streamlining government, there’s always room for improvement,” Hanger said.