Sayre rings up GOP endorsements
Story by Chris Graham
A new twist in politics – an endorsement war – has sprung up in the Emmett Hanger-Scott Sayre race for the Republican Party nomination in the 24th Senate District.
Sayre, the challenger to Hanger, the three-term incumbent, has laid claim to the grassroots – with the endorsement of Augusta County GOP chair Kurt Michael on Wednesday making it all but official.
“Scott is a fiscally responsible Republican who will work to bring about true tax reform. It is time for new leadership in the state Senate, and Scott Sayre is the man to bring about that change,” Michael said at a news conference in Fishersville Wednesday afternoon.
Michael joins Keith Drake, the chair of the Albemarle County Republican Committee, Mike Meredith, the chair of the Rockingham County Republican Committee, David Kiser, the chair of the Highland County GOP, Chris Darden, the chair of the Waynesboro GOP, and Anne Taetzch, the chair of the Staunton party committee, in offering endorsements for Sayre.
Sayre, a Buena Vista businessman, has signed a no-tax pledge and has offered sharp criticisms of Hanger’s record on taxes and spending.
Hanger has been under fire in the 24th Senate District for his vote on a 2004 tax increase championed by former Democratic governor Mark Warner and his support for revenue and fee increases backed by Senate Republicans to provide additional funding for transportation improvements.
“There is only one true Republican running in the June 12th Republican primary for the 24th Senatorial District, and that is Scott Sayre,” Drake said.
“I have always made it a personal policy to never endorse a candidate until after the nomination process is complete. However, after the disrespectful comments made last week by the current state senator from the 24th Senatorial District towards the thousands of volunteers who work day and night for those running for public office, I could no longer be silent,” Drake said.
Drake was referring to comments that Hanger made in an interview with The New Dominion in April in which he addressed the issue of how the local Republican Party machinery seems to be solidly behind Sayre’s challenge.
“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,” said Hanger, whose backers include several elected officials on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors and elected constitutional officers in both localities.
“We have a situation right now where we have several chairs who have agendas of their own,” Hanger said. “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.”
Local GOP leaders have seized on the comments regarding their activities – to sell the message to voters in the 24th that Hanger doesn’t appear at all to value the efforts of party volunteers.
In my 15 years of involvement in the Republican Party statewide, Russ Potts was the only elected Republican who openly denounced his own party officials and volunteer workers. It is sad that Emmett Hanger has fallen to the level of Russ Potts and now openly denigrates the very people whose sweat and labor elected him to office years ago,” Meredith said at Wednesday’s news conference.
A news release sent out by the Sayre campaign reported that Meredith’s comments to that effect were made “in reference to comments made last week when Hanger said, among many controversial comments, ‘that elected officials were more significant than members of the local Republican Party.’ ”
No attribution to the source of that quote is offered for clarification there – and no evidence of this statement having been reported as a direct quote of Hanger in the local media is available.
It is not a quote from The New Dominion story that has been widely used as a source of Hanger’s comments on the issue – though the interview with The New Dominion is the only time that he addressed the issue publicly to date.
Darden said he had planned to remain neutral in the primary, but the Hanger comments regarding local party leaders changed things for him.
“For me, right now, it is a question of whom am I most responsible to support – the establishment, or the volunteers who help create the establishment. I believe the volunteers are my main responsibility,” Darden said.