By Chris Graham
Voters in the Greater Augusta region sent another group of Republicans to represent them in Richmond, which will have a new look when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
After more than two decades of Republicans in charge, the House and Senate will have Democratic majorities.
Which leads you to have to wonder: what can the Republicans representing the area get done?
Emmett Hanger would seem to be the key to getting anything done from a local perspective.
Hanger has served in the State Senate since 1996, and is cut from a different political cloth from today’s Republicans.
A throwback to the Mountain Valley Republicans who bucked one-party Byrd Democrat rule into the 1960s, Hanger is more moderate-Democrat on today’s political spectrum than anything else, and I can bet you he’s going to send me a note raising issue with me for writing that, but, whatever, it’s true.
What I like about Hanger is that he has made it a point to spend his time in Richmond not throwing firebombs aimed at getting headlines, but instead by working to forge bipartisan consensus on actual issues, for example, Medicaid reform, mental health funding, conservation and the environment.
It’s this tendency that earns Hanger a quadrennial intra-party challenge from one of the firebombers who run hard at him for being a RINO – Republican In Name Only.
Just me speaking here, but, yeah, I agree, he’s a RINO, which is why I go out of my way as a Democrat to endorse him in primaries and generals when he’s up for another term.
Because the General Assembly actually needs more people like Hanger, not less, focused on getting things done, on looking at where deficiencies are and addressing them.
Hanger was an early critic, I remember, of the Bush era No Child Left Behind fiasco, meeting with White House officials to tell them to their face that the push to standardized testing was failing Virginia schools, and getting a bit of pushback for comments to that effect that he had made to me in an interview for a story that we published previewing the meeting.
He took the pushback there and forged a path forward, as he was able to do on Medicaid reform, as he has been able to do in the effort to secure more funding for mental health.
It’s not conservative to just oppose anything and everything a Democrat offers up as an idea for fixing a problem. That’s just being contrarian, and there are enough contrarians in the General Assembly.
The outgoing House Majority Leader, Todd Gilbert, from up the road from us, up in Shenandoah County, has made it clear that he will spend his next couple of years – hate to break it to him, but with redistricting on the horizon, it’s going to be a lot longer than the next couple of years – fighting the Democratic agenda.
Good luck with that, both to Mr. Gilbert and to his constituents, who might as well have left their House seat open, for what good that will do them.
Politics doesn’t work that way. I mean, sure, it can get you big donations from PACs and plaudits from bloggers, but the burn-it-down approach doesn’t get the needs of the folks back addressed in any kind of way.
I expect Hanger to keep Augusta County, Staunton, Waynesboro at the forefront of discussions in Richmond.
Maybe John Avoli, who had a reputation for being able to work across the aisle as mayor of Staunton, can use that as his model for how he represents the area in the House of Delegates, and not the approach of his predecessor, another former Staunton City Council member, Dickie Bell, who was elected as a moderate and represented the area in Richmond as one of the flamethrowers, to my great disappointment, having worked in the past with Bell on issues when he was an elected leader in Staunton.
Richmond can change you, as Washington can change you. You can leave home with the best of intentions, and come back a very different person indeed.
It’s not easy to do the right thing, is the message here.
Credit to Emmett Hanger for being the same Mountain Valley Republican he was when he was first elected to local public office way back in 1979, and was focused on just doing a good job representing the people who put him there.
Chris Graham, editor of The Augusta Free Press, an award-winning journalist and editor, is a 1994 graduate of the University of Virginia, and has covered Virginia politics since 1997. An author of seven books, Chris co-wrote Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship , published in 2019.