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May Surprise in 24th GOP race

Story by Chris Graham

You’ve heard of October Surprises. How about a June Surprise – a day early?

A report on a local politics website has brought to light two drunk-driving convictions on the record of Mary Brandt Sayre, the wife of 24th Senate District Republican Party nomination candidate Scott Sayre, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Emmett Hanger in a June 12 party primary.

The report on Republitarian.com, which is edited by Myron Rhodes, gives details on two driving-while-intoxicated convictions for Mary Brandt Sayre, one in 2003 and one in 2006.

The New Dominion has independently confirmed the report. According to online court records, the 2003 conviction in Rockbridge County General District Court was for an Aug. 26, 2003, offense that resulted in a 30-day suspended sentence and a $100 fine, and the 2006 conviction in Staunton General District Court was for a Jan. 13, 2006, offense that resulted in a 30-day sentence, 20 days of which were suspended, and a $250 fine.

According to the court records, the second incident at first led to a charge for Sayre of DWI-Second Offense, which upon conviction would have subjected her to a mandatory minimum fine of $500 and up to a year in jail.

Sayre was ultimately convicted of DWI-First Offense in that case.

The report has caused a sensation on the local blogosphere – where things had already been heated over the Hanger-Sayre race. Alex Davis, the editor of the John Maxfield blog and a member of the blogging group Bloggers4Sayre, linked to the Republitarian post and reported on it as “smearing a candidate’s wife through the mud.”

Even local Democrats have been weighing in to that end. Former Harrisonburg mayor Joseph Fitzgerald wrote on the hburgnews blog that he views the drunk-driving issue raised by Rhodes as “a sideshow.”
“It is an order of magnitude less important than whether a politician is asking to be a part of a process he refuses to fund, and whether he’s running against someone who wants to offer physical mutilation as a condition of parole,” Fitzgerald wrote on the blog.

“If I lived in the relevant district, and could ask the candidate about the issue, I’d want to know if it inclines him to increase the treatment requirements for DUI offenses and simple drug possession case, as opposed to just demanding stiffer sentences,” Fitzgerald wrote.

Rhodes, who on his blog on Wednesday offered his endorsement of Hanger in the 24th GOP primary race, told The New Dominion today that the Mary Brandt Sayre convictions are an issue “because Scott Sayre will be legislating – and because he will be legislating drunk-driving laws.”

“And it’s an issue because, how will it look on this district if our state senator’s wife gets in an accident and kills somebody as a third-time offender?” Rhodes said.

Rhodes has addressed the issue directly to Scott Sayre – Sayre and Hanger participated in a call-in show this morning on WSVA-550AM, and Rhodes asked the candidates their position on stiffer sentences for those convicted of drunk-driving offenses.

“When you leave it up to judge to make decisions, sometimes you’re locked in to what they’re looking for,” Sayre answered on the air.

“I think we have a very good law-enforcement policy out there right now on DUI. It’s been enforced. If you get caught, you pay the fine, and you pay the penalty – and you pay the consequences,” Sayre said.

Hanger also took on the question – saying that it “opens up the subject of something that is tremendously costly to us, and it’s one of the things that’s driving increases in our spending in our state budget, and that is substance abuse in general.”
“I would readily admit that we do not pay enough attention to that in terms of constructive programs and putting money where it can basically deal with that,” Hanger said. “It’s not only an issue in terms of those that have been discussed here, but also substance abuse is one of the leading causes of people being incarcerated. We’re spending a billion dollars this year on incarcerating people – and about half of those folks are there because of some form of substance abuse.”

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