Story by Chris Graham
Emmett Hanger and Scott Sayre were in the same room – briefly.
The candidates for the 24th Senate District Republican Party nomination passed like ships in the night at their joint appearance at a Staunton Republican Committee meeting Tuesday – with Hanger, the three-term incumbent state senator under fire from local conservatives for his stances on fiscal and transportation issues, leaving the meeting at the conclusion of his remarks and as Sayre, who arrived late due to a scheduling conflict with another campaign appearance in Augusta County, prepared to begin his.
Hanger, who has represented the 24th in Richmond since his upset win over 22-year incumbent Frank Nolen in 1995, talked up his long record of service to the local GOP – which dates back to his historic triumph in a 1979 local race that saw him become the first Augusta County Republican elected to local office since Reconstruction.
He curiously sidestepped the issues that have energized conservatives in the 24th District to seek an intraparty challenger – focusing instead on the talk that he appears to stand in line to become the Senate Agriculture Committee chairman next year if he is returned to the General Assembly.
“For Western Virginia, for Rural Virginia, if I am able to have that position, and that podium to speak from in representing Rural Virginia, for conservation issues and for farm-related issues, I think that will be significant for all of Western Virginia,” Hanger said.
“If, in fact, I am able to return to Richmond for another term, there will only be two of us in leadership in the state Senate who represent primarily rural areas – and that’s a big deal,” Hanger said.
“Sometimes we make a big deal about the fact that the House and the Senate argue and sometimes debate, and we make a big deal about the fact that Republicans and Democrats argue and debate because they have different perspectives on the issues, conservatives and liberals. But there is a real dynamic in Virginia right now between rural and urban areas. And there will only be two of us left in positions of leadership in the state Senate that represent primarily rural areas,” said Hanger, listing Bristol Republican Sen. William Wampler as the other GOP Senate leader fitting that description.
Sayre, a Buena Vista businessman who has been endorsed by the Virginia Conservative Action PAC and has the support of former House of Delegates speaker Vance Wilkins, cut right to the heart of where the focus of the campaign has been the past couple of months.
“The main issues that we’re confronting are increasing taxes and wasteful spending, which you’ve heard for years and years – as a businessperson, I’ve heard it time after time after time. But I know how to make a budget – I know how to meet a payroll,” Sayre said.
“We’re going to hold the line on raising your taxes,” Sayre said. “How am I going to do that? Just like tonight – I was speaking to the Association of Home Builders in Augusta County. You know what – about one-third of our tax dollars come from people in the homebuilding industry. That group needs to be supported – not regulated out of existence. It needs to be supported. When you build your home, you buy more wood, more block – those tax dollars go into the state coffers. You stimulate business. That’s how we increase our revenues – stimulate business.”
Sayre also made a veiled reference to legislation that Hanger has supported in the past two General Assembly sessions that would extend eligibility for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in Virginia to immigrants who have graduated from a public or private high school in Virginia or received a GED certificate in Virginia, have resided in the Commonwealth for at least three years at the time of their high-school graduation, have provided an affadavit stating that they have filed an application to become a permanent resident of the United State and are actively pursuing such permanent residency or will do so as soon as they are eligible and have submitted evidence that they or at least one parent or guardian has filed state income-tax returns for at least three years prior to the date of enrollment.
The measures have passed the Senate by overwhelming majorities in each of the past two legislative years – before dying in the House of Delegates.
“I just don’t think it’s right to take my son or daughter’s college slot away and give it to an illegal immigrant – and even more than that, give it to somebody at in-state tuition rates. It’s not going to happen on my watch. I’ve seen two bills in the last two years presented – and that’s just not going to pass when I’m elected as your senator,” Sayre said.
The committee meeting ended with a heated disagreement between members of factions supporting Hanger and Sayre over a procedural organizational issue.