By Lynn R. Mitchell
At noon on a day in May earlier this year, I sat in a make-shift political office in Staunton waiting for Augusta County’s State Senator Emmett Hanger to meet and work on our schedule as we approached the upcoming June primary. By the time I saw him, he had already attended a breakfast with local business folks followed by another meeting, while returning phone calls in between.
A typical day was filled with conversations with fellow legislators, traveling his 24th senate district that extended from Staunton north in the Shenandoah Valley and over the mountain to Cupeper and Madison, and grassroots activities, and a hospital recognition and stopping to say hey to folks in a local eatery. While making his way to a table in a local restaurant, he would be greeted with, “Hey, Emmett,” and handshakes and smiles and recognition as the hometown boy who went to Richmond and did well.
That is the Emmett Hanger most voters in his district know and respect, someone who stands up for them in Richmond — Republicans and Democrats, he represents them all the same — and folks from all walks in life. He has family all over the place and no matter where he goes, there is someone to smile and call out the familiar “Hey Emmett,” greeting.
During the primary, even as he was faced with false allegations from his opponent, he refused to go negative, believing that his votes in RVA had been the correct ones, and carrying the firm belief that he served all his constituents, not just a few.
It’s that down-to-earth personality that prevails with his common sense approach to governing and his responsible handling of the purse strings — he once served as Augusta County’s commissioner of revenue — that prompted the Staunton News Leader to pen their editorial, “Grateful for Emmett Hanger.” They began:
Richmond is as dysfunctional as Washington, some claim. We in the Shenandoah Valley can be proud that State Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, is not part of the problem.
I thought back to the first time I met Emmett Hanger. The year was around 1997. My family had recently moved to Augusta County and we were part of the local homeschool group that included Sally Landes, sister-in-law to Delegate Steve Landes. Sally arranged for a small group of moms and their children — our students — to visit Richmond during the General Assembly session, and to meet with each of the local representatives. One of those was Senator Hanger or, as everyone around these parts called him, Emmett.
We filed into a small conference room where moms and kids took a seat and Emmett was casually leaning on the conference table, smiling and greeting Sally and others he recognized. My two children were around 9 and 13 at the time, and we had prepped for this field trip with names of reps and an overview of what went on in Richmond during those two months in winter.
With everyone settled into their seats, Emmett greeted the group and what struck me was that soft southern drawl and disarming rural persona. He talked about some of the legislative issues and the goings-on while in Richmond, then answered questions. I probably remember it as well as I do because he talked about the state song that had been retired not long before. He was on the committee to find a replacement so I was curious as to how that was going. (It wouldn’t be until 2015 that Virginia finally replaced “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” with two newer state songs including the late Robbin Thompson and Steve Bassett’s “Sweet Virginia Breeze.”)
So the next part of the News Leader editorial was spot on:
Low on bombast and high on integrity, Hanger was challenged in a primary this year, thanks to his support for Medicaid expansion. Though most in his conservative district probably disagree with that stance, he received 60 percent of the vote.
Here’s why: People trust him. Citizens appreciate hearing a voice of reason, especially during such polarized times.
That’s the kind of man Hanger is. Kind. Measured. Able to see both sides of an issue and unafraid of the voters or even the media. A rarity in politics.
That certainly showed itself to be true with his 60 percent support in a primary that saw two tea party opponents challenge him (see Emmett Hanger wins huge in 24th senate district). Even though he ran as a Republican, his support crossed all party lines, in a big way.
The NL went on to mention the Augusta County Republican Committee campaign ad that appeared in the News Leader five days before the November 2015 election and the senator’s response when asked about it:
Take for example the infamous Augusta County Republican Committee “Preserve our Christian Heritage” ad published during the November election. When interviewed about it, Hanger’s response was polite and straightforward. He explained that he had supplied his photo but not approved any ad copy and that that “Christianity is not the property of a political party.”
When the General Assembly convenes in January 2016, Emmett Hanger will be co-chairman of one of the most powerful committees in Richmond, the state senate finance committee. It’s a position he has earned in several ways including leadership, character, and seniority. He will share it with Senator Tommy Norment (see RTD: Emmett Hanger would make excellent finance committee chair).
If you don’t agree with him on everything, stick around. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll agree with him more often than not.