June 30, 2015
To the surprise of almost no one, State Senator Emmett Hanger won renomination as the Republican candidate for Virginia Senate for the 24th Senate District in the June 9 primary election, exactly three weeks ago. The only uncertainty was his margin of victory, and given that he was facing two opposing candidates, it's safe to call his 60-percent share of the vote a landslide victory. For details on the election results, see newsleader.com.
It was quite a contrast to the situation four years ago, when Hanger went unchallenged, and eight years ago, when he barely turned back a primary election challenge by Scott Sayre. So what's going on? Strangely enough, given my deep involvement in local politics prior to 2010 or so, I only have a vague idea about the nature of the struggles within the Republican Party lately. I was, however, diligent enough to read about the candidates in the News Leader, and to look at their campaign flyers.
The two challengers were Marshall Pattie, a professor at James Madison University and member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, and Dan Moxley, a businessman and chairman of the Augusta County Republican Committee. Pattie has been affiliated with the "grassroots" faction in Augusta County, those who are motivated primarily by opposition to higher property taxes. The most prominent public figure within that faction is Tracy Pyles, a long-time local Democrat who seems to embody the old (pre-1970s) Democratic Party in Virginia. Pattie was first elected in November 2011, along with David Karaffa and Tracy Pyles (who was reelected). Another candidate of that faction, former Augusta County GOP Chairman Kurt Michaels, lost his election bid that year. The fact that Pattie himself is a former local Democratic leader raised many eyebrows, but he identifies himself as a conservative. He stressed the issues of cutting government red tape, improving Internet access to rural residents, and reducing the cost of adoptions.
As for Moxley, he seems to have enjoyed strong support from local Tea Party activists, although a local Tea Party official made clear in a letter to the editor that the organization does not endorse candidates. (Otherwise, they would become subject to harsh government scrutiny under campaign finance laws!) Moxley's campaign strongly emphasized his opposition to Obamacare, pledging to vote against Medicaid expansion, and to repeal laws that he considers unconstitutional. He is pro-Second Amendment, and also stressed "sanctity of life" (anti-abortion) and "traditional marriage." He was formerly Vice Chairman of the Bath County Republican Committee, and then moved to Augusta County a couple years ago, whereupon he ran unopposed for the GOP chairmanship.
Emmett Hanger was not caught flat-footed by these dual challenges, as seemed to be the case in 2007, when his campaign didn't really get started until a month or so before the election. Indeed, there were dozens of radio commercials in late May and early June, as well as a deluge of campaign flyers in everybody's mail boxes. I also noted increasing use of social media such as Facebook, something that Emmett used to shun. His campaign "recycled" an abridged version of my YouTube video of the musical fundraiser on May 31, 2007, featuring Jimmy Fortune (of the Statler Brothers) and Robin Williams. There was also a cute animated skit in which Emmett talks about how he has stood up against the low-down hardball political tactics employed by right-wing anti-tax activists. (Probably alluding to the Koch Brothers.) Emmett's campaign literature emphasized that he is conservative, that he is the same guy he always was, and that he has been endorsed by the NRA, real estate agents, and other groups. It was a clever, effective, professional campaign. So who was behind it? To my surprise, the manager of the Hanger 2015 campaign was none other than Lynn Mitchell, local blogger, former member of the Republican State Central Committee, ally of Kurt Michael, and fierce leader of the Sayre campaign running against Hanger in 2007! Well, if you can't beat them, join them.
|Daniel J. "Dan" Moxley
|Emmett W. Hanger, Jr.
|Marshall W. Pattie
Because the 24th District is strongly conservative, it is almost guaranteed that whoever wins the Republican primary election will win the general election in November. And because Virginia is an open primary state, where people can vote in either party's primary, there is always a possibility of heavy crossover voting of a less-than-sincere nature. The Republican State Central Committee met in Staunton this past Saturday to address the question of how to do nominations. They tentatively decided to use a primary election in next year's presidential race, and to use a convention for the next gubernatorial elections, in 2017. See newsleader.com.
In my blog post on politics on February 12, I lamented the failure of redistricting reform in Virginia at this year's General Assembly Session. Following the redistricting of 2011, the Virginia 24th Senate District lost Highland County, northern Rockbridge County, and northwestern Albemarle County, and gained Madison County and most of Culpeper County except for the town of Culpeper, extending nearly to the city of Fredericksburg. What motivated this extremely contorted configuration? Obviously, folks who live in Augusta County have little in common with those who live in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C. The 24th Senate District is stretched out like a blob of dough, and in my view violates the standard laid out in the Constitution of Virginia. The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a ruling in favor of those who would reform the redistricting process, and I was pleased to learn that Emmett Hanger came out in favor of such reforms. It will be a long and arduous process, however...
According to Article II, Section 6 of the Constitution of Virginia (virginia.gov),
"... Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory... "