Mr. Hanger Goes to Richmond

“When I started, I considered myself to be one of the most conservative members, and I don’t think my views have changed, but there are more people who are considerably to the right of me. On the other hand, there are people far to the left of me. I’ve been referred to as a ‘moderate’ now, and that used to bother me. But I’ve come to equate that label with meaning reasonable, and I accept that.” -Senator Emmett Hanger (R-24th Senate District)

Virginia could be in for an interesting two months during the 2020 Virginia General Assembly’s “long session” that begins today and lasts for 60 days (long sessions in even years; short 45-day sessions in uneven years). After Democrats won complete control of Richmond with November’s elections, Republicans found themselves in the minority, 55-45 in the House of Delegates, and 21-19 in the Senate.

One legislator whose experience and bipartisan leadership will be needed now more than ever is State Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta). Hanger, whose 24th Senate District includes the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro as well as Augusta, Greene, and Madison counties, and parts of Rockingham and Culpeper counties, has represented western Virginia in the Senate since 1996.

The senator’s ability to pull the sides together was evident in 2018 when he was instrumental in the passage of Medicaid expansion with bipartisan support in both the Senate and House.

Roanoke Times reporter Amy Friedenberger talked with area legislators in a comprehensive pre-session article (see Democrats prepare to rule in Richmond as Republicans adapt to being in the minority) that included Hanger’s assessment of this year’s General Assembly:

It’s the first time since 1993 that Democrats control the House, Senate and the governor’s mansion. Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, expects this total Democratic control to be unlike how it was in the past, a result of increased polarization.

“There’s a feeling that we had a governor who, I think, had relatively conservative roots when he was in the Senate and elected as lieutenant governor, so much that he considered joining our Republican caucus,” said Hanger, who has been in the legislature for 32 years.

“But at this point his thinking has gotten more progressive, and there’s a concern that this particular session might bring about legislation that is not keeping with the overall historic perspective of the commonwealth. Some may be good, and some may be not so good.”

Perhaps as a result of that concern, the Commonwealth Caucus — co-chaired by Hanger and Delegate-elect Suhas Subramanyam (D-Loudoun) — has emerged among legislators who want to govern and work together. From Friedenberger (see New group strives to find common ground in General Assembly):

The 12 founding members come from all over the state and range from progressive Democrats to conservative Republicans. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, is a founding member.

Hanger said the group will meet regularly to discuss important policies and legislation. One of its priorities will be electoral reform.

“When I started, I considered myself to be one of the most conservative members, and I don’t think my views have changed, but there are more people who are considerably to the right of me,” Hanger said last week. “On the other hand, there are people far to the left of me. I’ve been referred to as a ‘moderate’ now, and that used to bother me. But I’ve come to equate that label with meaning reasonable, and I accept that.”

A lifelong Republican who helped begin the trend from blue to red in Augusta County when in 1996 he ran against Democratic Senator Frank Nolen and won, Hanger is respected for his representation of all his constituents. He has legislated throughout the years by reaching across the aisle and working with his Senate colleagues — Republican and Democrat — and has earned the reputation as a level-headed legislator.

Reporter Jessica Wetzler with Harrisonburg’s Daily News Record wrote the article many had been waiting for (see Hanger’s Time: Hanger’s Bipartisanship Will Be Useful in Upcoming Session). In November when Democrats won both chambers, eyes turned to Senator Hanger. The right wing of his own party, who attacked him because of Democratic support in his District, were short-sighted in realizing the importance of such leadership. Ms. Wetzler wrote:

With his experience in working within the majority and minority, Hanger has been able to reach across the aisle.

“You need to basically be fair in terms of working with those in the minority because they tend to basically use that example when the situation gets reversed,” he said.

Hanger said with the Senate Finance Committee being the most powerful committee in the General Assembly, Democrats could “return the favor” by having more Democrats in the group than what was normally allowed.

Democrats could also remove Hanger from his responsibilities as co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, but hopes he would remain a member of the committee.

Exercising his belief of being fair, Hanger has built a working relationship with Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, who said Hanger is a great guy.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Deeds said. “I think he thinks about policy before politics and Emmett is pretty good with looking at the big picture.”

Deeds said once you are elected, you represent everyone, and Hanger does just that.

“He is someone I lean on for advice, guidance and assistance,” Deeds said.

With a voting record supporting limited government and fiscal conservatism — pillars of conservative politics — being a protector of individual rights as well as individual responsibility is on Hanger’s list.

Where Hanger may stand out in the Republican Party is his belief in government common-sense solutions over party politics.

The editorial board of the Daily News Record agrees (see Valley Needs Hanger to Keep Being Hanger):

Thankfully, Emmett Hanger knows how to reach across the aisle. He’s proven it time and time again since the Mount Solon Republican was elected to serve in the Virginia Senate 24th District back in 1996.

And, come January, the Shenandoah Valley is going to need him.

Now, more than ever, we need Hanger to extend those arms and reach across the aisle. Now, more than ever, we need Hanger to remain respected by the Democrats while representing the community’s interests. Now, more than ever, we need Hanger to remind the rest of the state about the Valley and that it needs our agriculture. Our rural landscape, after all, is the state’s historic breadbasket.

With his home in the north-western corner of Augusta County at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, Senator Hanger knows rural Virginia:

“I am interested in promoting opportunities in rural Virginia, who is largely represented by Republicans,” Hanger said. “I don’t think the Valley will be in jeopardy. We are fortunate in the Valley that we have a strong moral compass.”

Hanger will also be a strong voice for the agricultural community, with National Affairs Coordinator for the Virginia Farm Bureau, Ben Rowe, saying Hanger is an “excellent representative for rural Virginia and the agriculture industry.”

“Sen. Hanger has a long history of successfully working across the aisle to represent his district and Virginia’s agriculture industry,” Rowe said. “The population of rural Virginia continues to shrink every year, yet the economic impact of the agricultural products produced in these areas continues to grow, and agriculture remains the largest industry in the Commonwealth.”

Rowe said regardless of where constituents may call home or their political affiliation, everyone benefits from a safe, affordable and domestic food supply.

“With this in mind, Farm Bureau looks to critical allies like Sen. Hanger who can not only build consensus between political parties, but can bridge the rural-urban divide to ensure agricultural and rural Virginia is well represented in the General Assembly,” Rowe said.

Always supportive of education, mental health, agriculture, and the environment, to name a few, he works with the Southern Legislative Conference and National Conference of State Legislators. In the legislature he has been Senate Finance Co-Chair, a budget conferee, and Chair of the Health and Human Services Finance subcommittee. The new session will show if he remains in those positions. With his ability to work side-by-side with his colleagues across the aisle, the better question would be how many of those positions he retains.

The 2020 legislative session kicks off Wednesday and run through March 7. Senator Hanger appears ready; after all, he hit the ground running after his reelection in November by attending meetings around the Commonwealth and preparing for the annual trek to Richmond.

Read more of Jessica Wetzler’s article and the entire editorial in the Daily News Record.

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