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Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, announced Thursday that he is not seeking reelection in November after more than 27 years in the state Senate. Hanger’s announcement came just hours before Thursday’s filing deadline.
“I struggled with this decision because lots of people statewide have encouraged me to run again because of the loss of senior leadership in Richmond that is anticipated next year,” Hanger said in a statement.
With his decision not to run, Hanger averted an intra-party feud with Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, who declared last year that he would seek his party’s nomination in that Senate district. Without a primary opponent, Head is now his party’s nominee by default.
Head said in a statement Thursday that Hanger has “served our commonwealth with distinction and accomplished a great deal” during his time in Richmond.
“It has been a privilege to work with Emmett during our tenures and I look forward to continuing to work with him throughout the end of his term,” he said.
Hanger was first elected to represent the 24th Senate district in 1996, succeeding Democrat Frank Nolen. But after the Virginia Supreme Court in December 2021 approved new legislative maps, he found himself paired in the same district as Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham County. In the state Senate, 20 of the 40 senators are paired with one or more fellow legislators while 11 districts have been drawn with no incumbent.
Hanger decided to not challenge his Republican colleague, but he had openly considered moving somewhere else in Augusta County that would put him in the newly created 3rd District that also includes all of Botetourt County, Rockbridge, Alleghany and Craig counties, parts of Roanoke and Bedford counties, plus the cities of Staunton, Waynesboro, Buena Vista, Lexington and Covington.
“While I currently represent, or have represented in the past, at least half of the new Senate district 3, I do not live within those boundaries,” Hanger said in the statement. “Where I have lived all of my life, went to school, college, commanded a National Guard Infantry Company, my church, my Ruritan Club, my business, where six of my 16 grandchildren live; in essence my community, are all in Senate district 2.”
For Hanger, his decision didn’t come easy. As recently as last week, his campaign sent out a mailer boasting the headline “Senator Emmett Hanger – Honest Conservative Leadership” to residents in Botetourt County and Roanoke County, which are located in the new district but outside his current district.
Hanger told Cardinals News last week that the mailout campaign was merely “a primer to see what kind of response we’re getting,” adding that “this is going to go right up until the deadline.”
But with every day, Hanger was pushing the clock. In order to get his name on the ballot, Hanger would not just have to move to his new district, but he also would have to file paperwork with the Virginia Department of Elections to include candidate qualification, finance and economic interest forms, and a petition with 250 signatures from registered voters residing in the district who agree that he should be on the ballot.
“I went so far as to locate a house to purchase in SD3 but ultimately for personal, political and family reasons have decided not to move away from my current community,” he said.
Hanger, 74, is the third senator from Southwest and Southside Virginia not seeking reelection. His colleague Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke County, announced in February that he would not run again, followed last month by Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford County.
A native of Staunton, Hanger is a former National Guard commander, who also served as captain in the U.S. Army. He was a member of the House of Delegates from 1983 until 1991, when he was defeated by Creigh Deeds.
During his almost three decades in the state Senate, built a reputation as a bipartisan consensus maker, most notably over his open support for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act during several legislative sessions until 2018, when the General Assembly approved it. His work earned Hanger a “Hero in Health Care Extraordinaire” award from the Virginia Health Care Foundation.
In 2018, Hanger was rated as the nation’s 10th most productive state legislator by FiscalNote, a data analytics firm based out of Washington, D.C. Hanger won the distinction with his cumulative legislative record since his election to the Senate in 1995 — not including eight years in the House of Delegates before taking a four-year hiatus from the General Assembly.
“I might have to brag about that at some point,” he responded while attending the annual summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Los Angeles that year, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported at the time.
Hanger also was a fierce opponent of gerrymandering, a practice of drawing the boundaries of electoral districts in a way that gives one party an unfair advantage over its rivals, or that dilutes the voting power of members of ethnic or linguistic minority groups.
In 2019, Hanger co-sponsored a bipartisan resolution establishing a 10-member Citizens Redistricting Commission made up of members of the general public selected by leaders in both chambers of the General Assembly as well as retired circuit court judges.
The commission he helped create failed to find consensus, which resulted in the Virginia Supreme Court’s approval of new maps drawn by so-called special masters that paired Hanger with Obenshain in a new district.
Until his current term expires early next year, Hanger will continue to serve on the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, the Finance and Appropriation Committee, the Local Government Committee and the Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee.
Hanger is also a budget conferee who would have been in line to be Senate Finance chair, if Republicans win back the Senate.
“I will remain energetically involved and keep all other options open to continue to serve,” Hanger said.