June 13, 2007
So, the good guys won, after all. All that sacrifice and work finally paid off! Our incumbent state senator Emmett Hanger overcame a ferocious challenge to win renomination last night as the Republican candidate for the 24th District State Senate. As soon as the polls closed, we Hanger supporters gathered to watch the election results coming in, and our patience was tried by the slow tabulation. (Coincidentally, we also got to watch my television debut as a panelist on WVPT's Virginia Viewpoints show hosted by Chris Graham, but it was hard to stay focused on that.) For some reason, however, Wards 3 and 4 in Staunton were very slow in reporting their vote totals. Even though we were pretty sure by 8:15 PM or so that Hanger had won, it was not until about 8:45 when the Staunton votes were all counted that we could let loose and celebrate.
And speaking of "sweet," as soon as we received confirmation of the big win, we all headed down to Wright's Dairy-Rite in Staunton to celebrate the historic triumph of reason and hope over hatred and fear. The Senator treated all his supporters to a milk shake or an ice cream sundae. Yum! It was a fitting treat for those who really deserved it -- hence, "just desserts." The atmosphere was jubilant, as upwards of fifty friends and supporters crowded into the old-fashioned drive-in restaurant that is one of Staunton's iconic landmarks.
I was glad to meet a number of Emmett's key supporters, especially his legislative aide Holly Herman. His wife Sharon joined him, as did their daughter Heidi and her family. Also joining in the festivities were Delegate Steve Landes, Augusta County supervisor David Beyeler, County Treasurer Richard Homes, and Commissioner of Revenue Jean Shrewsbury, along with Tom and Peggy Sheets, who hosted the big fund-raising event on May 31. Staunton Republicans Stacey Morris, Cliff and Erma Fretwell, Ray and Carol Ergenbright, Richard and Elnora Hazlett were there, as well as Hanger campaign volunteers Carol Brown, Craig and Shirley ???, and Kathryn ???, a JMU student who belongs to a pro-education organization called Century 21. I am extremely proud to have worked with all these fine folks as a member of the the Hanger team. (I didn't bring a notebook, so I apologize for not getting more names correctly.)
Today's News Leader had an unusually long and blunt editorial about this primary election and the ramifications thereof: "Time to clean house." For the benefit of those who have been observing the Hanger-Sayre race from a distance, without first-hand knowledge of the shame and agony that we true "grass roots" party members have been enduring, here are some key excerpts:
Local Republican party politics have been spinning out of control for several years now. Increasingly nasty campaigns have made a mockery of the principles and ethics of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan by embracing the tactics of Republican advertising spinmeister Scott Howell, White House wormtongue Karl Rove and the libertarian guru of slash-and-burn, Grover Norquist. Since the failed Republican gubernatorial candidacy of Jerry Kilgore through the failed senatorial campaigns of George Allen and Scott Sayre, an even more pernicious trend has emerged: Vile, abusive, truth-twisting (when outright falsehoods were not being spread) and ad hominem attacks made via cowardly, anonymous blogs run by the very people who claim to be the leaders of the local Republican party.
It is time for the adults to seize the steering wheel from the hands of the willful children and plot a more reasonable course. It is time for local Republicans to engage in reasoned discourse and put the rancor away. That cannot happen, however, without cleaning house.
Betrayal is a serious matter and insubordination must be dealt with swiftly. It's time to clear the underbrush of the snakes. Better yet, the snakes should resign. Today.
Those of us in the local Republican Party who supported Emmett Hanger -- in the face of extraordinary pressure and intimidation -- put our reputations (or even our careers) on the line in endorsing him, and we made it clear that our fundamental purpose was to restore the party's good name and get it back on track to governing in responsible way. We supporters of Emmett Hanger have been a strong majority on the Staunton Republican Committee all along (hence my election as secretary in March), but you never would have known it from the news about endorsements or public events that were supposedly sponsored by our committee -- without our approval, or even advance consultation! Before the primary election, I tried to be discreet about all the dirty tricks and charades that were being perpetrated by the other side, not wanting to be accused of "airing dirty laundry." As of now, all bets are off. As I wrote yesterday, "It's now up to the voters to define the mainstream of the Party of Lincoln..." The people have spoken.
As for the blog war in which I became embroiled, it became clear several weeks ago that "Bloggers 4 Sayre" had passed the point of diminishing returns, with an overloaded roster of bloggers most of whom were smart enough to stay out of the fray -- B4S "in name only," you might say. Adding the heavy-weight "reinforcements" from outside the 24th District late in the game looked desperate to me, a sign that our side had grabbed the momentum. Likewise, piling on their puny blog opponents (Myron and me, basically) with preposterous slurs and insinuations backfired terribly. Fortunately, some of those bloggers refrained from the filthy mud-slinging, showing that there is some hope for reconciliation within the Republican Party -- once they express contrition for siding with those who tried to wreck the party, that is. As for the hot-headed zealots, however, they should consider "spending more time with their families."
I think Emmett Hanger's big win validates my long-standing skepticism of the efficacy of yard signs. Sure, it's good to show your support, and it keeps up morale to see signs sprinkled about here and there, but let's not get carried away, folks! When I saw the dozens of Sayre signs outside the polling places (just like outside Blue Ridge Community College during the forum on May 29), it reminded me of the similar absurd deluge of Kerry-Edward signs outside the polls on November 2, 2004 -- all for nought. Can you say "overkill"? When you've got a weak candidate with a simplistic message, you're going to need a lot more than bombastic blogs and huge signs to change anybody's vote.
Another lesson is the importance of holding open, fair elections -- primary as well as general elections -- under the supervision of a public board. When I think of how, without a fair and transparent process, the nomination might well have been "hijacked" by the local "Mayberry Machiavellis" in the same way that they have hijacked the Republican Party leadership positions in recent years, my past opposition to the use of public funds for political parties' nominations is called into question.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project Emmett Hanger raised $232,321, of which the largest portion (about a tenth) came from Leadership for Virginia, which lobbies for Northern Virginia interests. In general, Hanger drew support from a much broader, diverse range of individuals and interest groups than his opponent did. Mr. Sayre raised $152,707, but that does not include money spent on the anti-Hanger radio ads or other propaganda campaigns waged by outside PACs. Of that total, nearly one third came from Harrisonburg businessman Walter Curt, and I learned last night why Mr. Curt has a grudge against Senator Hanger. Another big contributor to Sayre was former House of Delegates Speaker Vance Wilkins, who sent an unusually harsh and bitter letter attacking Emmett Hanger. Apparently, he can't forgive Hanger for not coming to his defense during the sex scandal which (among other things) led to his resignation in 2002.
I was guardedly optimistic about Senator Hanger's chances, and the 53%-47% election result was about what I expected. I must say, Myron deserves credit for his very accurate prediction, based on the high turnout. The vote totals highlight one very interesting fact: the localities in which the pro-Sayre "SWAC job" bloggers reside, and where they focused the bulk of their campaign efforts, were the very places where Emmett Hanger won by the biggest margin. If that is not a stinging rebuke to their negative political style, and definitive proof of their utter political incompetence, I don't know what is. Will higher-level Republican officials in Virginia take notice?
In that regard, it is perhaps a fortuitous coincidence that RPV Chairman Ed Gillespie announced that he is resigning his position to go work in the White House, replacing Dan Bartlett as Counselor to President Bush; see rpv.org. Indeed, the party needs a fresh start, from top to bottom.
|LOCALITY||Emmett Hanger||%||Scott Sayre||%|
|Staunton Ward 1||144||54.75%||119||45.24%|
|Staunton Ward 2||282||58.62%||199||41.37%|
|Staunton Ward 3||254||62.40%||153||37.59%|
|Staunton Ward 4||309||65.05%||166||34.94%|
|Staunton Ward 5||223||69.04%||100||30.95%|
Among the other incumbent moderate conservatives being challenged in the Old Dominion, Senate Majority Leader Walter Stosch (Henrico) survived by a narrow margin, but Martin Williams (Newport News) was defeated by Patricia Stall, and Brandon Bell (Roanoke County) was defeated by Ralph Smith. Oddly, the Washington Post emphasized that most moderates in Virginia were defeated, but their article ignored the two GOP senate incubments who overcame their challengers: Emmett Hanger and Walter Stosch. Perhaps this was because those two leaders are more conservative than moderate. In any case, the primary elections yielded a mixed message overall, neither confirming nor invalidating the effectiveness of the anti-tax, anti-government movement -- VCAP and the rest of their ilk. Those groups live to fight another day...