Story by Chris Graham
Senate Republicans appear to be safe in the Central Shenandoah Valley – but that isn’t to say that 24th District incumbent Emmett Hanger and 26th District incumbent Mark Obenshain haven’t had some hard work to do this fall.
Hanger has two challengers giving him all that they’re worth – Libertarian Arin Sime, who picked up the endorsement of The News Virginian in Waynesboro last month, and Democrat David Cox – while Obenshain has Democrat Maxine Roles running one of the heartier one-woman campaigns in recent memory.
“It’s something that I very much want to do – and I am bound and determined to prove that people who care about their state and care about other people can get out there and do the job that needs to be done,” Roles said in an interview for “The Augusta Free Press Show” last week.
Roles, a centrist Democrat and small-business owner from Page County, has challenged Obenshain on the substance of the transportation compromise passed by the General Assembly earlier this year and on state-budget issues across the board.
“Fiscal and moral responsibility has got to be one of the most important things that any representative is supposed to take a high ground on – and I think that with the $640 million shortfall that we’re looking at this year, it tells the constituents that for a party that has been so outspoken in their moral responsibilities and the fact that they don’t want to raise the no-tax pledge that they’re not doing the job they need to do. They are not using the money wisely – and we are not going to continue to keep our best-managed-state status unless somebody wants to come in and say, We need to cut the fat where the fat needs to be cut, and we need to start financing programs that we actually need to have in place,” Roles said.
Roles has also been critical of Obenshain for his stance on illegal immigration – an issue that she called a “red herring” being used by Republicans to try to retain political power.
“I’m all for reducing our illegal-immigrant population – but we also have to remember that contrary to what everybody hears, there are also federal mandates that we also have to follow. I mean, unless we become a self-governing state, that’s going to have to be something that people have to remember – is that we can’t do everything that we want to do,” Roles said.
“However, if we have jobs that people don’t want, we incarcerate many, many nonviolent offenders – and instead of warehousing them, why don’t we put them in those jobs that somebody doesn’t want? And this way, they would not only pay off the burden to the taxpayers by the long-term warehousing, but their families that are on welfare, their child-support restitution, all of that would be taken care of at the same time,” Roles said.
The race in the 24th has been much less in the way of being contentious. Cox, a Rockbridge County pastor, said he was motivated to run for the Senate seat after giving consideration to how his parents’ generation left the current generations “the best schools, the best roads, the best infrastructure that they possibly could.”
“Can we say that of our generation and what we are leaving to our children and grandchildren?” Cox said at an Oct. 22 forum sponsored by The Augusta Free Press and The New Dominion.
“I don’t think so – not when one out of every 11 bridges in Virginia is structurally deficient, not when we are falling behind other nations in the world in education, not when the Shenandoah River kills its own fish. I believe that we not only can do better; we must do better. And that is specifically why I am running – because I believe that we can and should and must. And in so doing, we will leave the world a better place for our children and grandchildren, as our parents and grandparents did for us. We owe future generations no less,” Cox said.
Sime, an Albemarle County small-business owner, notably, is running at Hanger from the right – pushing lower taxes and a social agenda that is also surprisingly to the right for a Libertarian candidate.
“I believe in keeping taxes low, regulations low. Our state budget has more than doubled in the last decade, and I think that that’s too much, and I think that we have reached a point where we need to look at reining in that budget before we look at doing anything else,” Sime said at that same Oct. 23 forum.
“I believe in open-government issues – as a Libertarian, as somebody who is not involved in either major party, I believe that we need more independent voices in Richmond who are willing to look beyond party lines to make sure that we have an open and accountable process, and that voters and activists are able to know what their legislators are up to,” Sime said.
“I can sum up my message by saying, If you believe in small government like I do, then all I’m asking you to do is vote your principles and vote for Sime on Nov. 6,” Sime said.
As much as the challengers are holding out hope for what would end up being a historic pair of upsets tomorrow, the pundits don’t see any real possibility for upset in either race in the Valley.
“The situation in the 24th is that Hanger has three hundred and some thousand dollars in his campaign fund – and he’s not really spending it. So the natural assumption is that the polls are showing that he’s pretty strong. And therefore, as Cox and Sime have raised very little, and have been unable to put together any media campaign or campaign, so the assumption is that Hanger is pretty safe in that one. And in the 26th race, there’s hardly been any campaigning at all. Neither party considers these races as being one of their nine or 10 competitive Senate races,” James Madison University political-science professor Bob Roberts told the AFP.
“Hanger and Obenshain have things pretty well in hand in their districts,” Bridgewater College political-science professor David McQuilkin told “The Augusta Free Press Show” last week.
“I don’t think their challengers are going to affect them very much. Hanger certainly had campaign for the Senate seat in the primary. The general election is going to be a confirmation that he’s already there. Obenshain has virtually no opposition whatsoever. I don’t see any possibility that he will be defeated in any way,” McQuilkin said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.