Hanger No ‘Maverick’ On Redistricting
Senator Says He Had Concerns, But Went With Party On Plan
Posted: January 29, 2013
HARRISONBURG — For Senate Republicans to railroad through a controversial redistricting map, it had to win over the one member who stands to lose the most: Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon.
And breaking from the party is never out of the question with Hanger.
“I’ve done it before. People that know me, actually they wouldn’t be surprised if I stepped out of line,” he said. “I take that as a compliment if they’re disappointed that I went along with everybody else. People expect me sometimes to be a maverick.”
Yet with House Bill 259, he voted with his 19 Senate party brethren last week in approving new district lines, effective 2015 if it becomes law. Those 20 Republicans outnumbered the 19 Democrats present to vote: the 20th Democrat was away at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
“I had some misgivings about moving something like that forward when the Democrats were short one person,” Hanger said. “I wasn’t particularly enamored with doing that. … My biggest concern was if we alienate the other party, then the focus becomes that instead of addressing important needs.
“Especially in today’s political environment, it pulls parties apart, and I don’t want to become any more like Washington, D.C., than we have to.”
Democrats, with control of the Senate at the time, redrew the lines in 2011. In that November’s election, the GOP won a split in the 40-member chamber, leaving Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling with the tie-breaking vote in 2012 and this year.
Bolling, however, has stated that he was not going to approve the GOP’s redistricting last week.
Further stirring debate between the parties is whether Republicans ignored the Virginia Constitution, which says redistricting should only occur within the year following the U.S. census.
Hanger said Republican Senate leadership convinced him that the new districts were a “better plan” than what Democrats created. That is despite Hanger’s 24th District getting lumped with Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds’ 25th District to create a new 24th.
A new majority black district also will be created in Southside Virginia, according to the plan.
The Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit that primarily tracks money in politics, estimates that Hanger could lose 15 percentage points, based on 2009 governor results, running in the newly constructed district.
A former delegate, he was elected to his first four-year term in the Senate in 1995 and has been there since. In 2007, the last time Hanger ran in a contested election, he received 65 percent of the vote.
Deeds, who ran as the Democratic nominee for governor in 2009, defeated the incumbent Hanger in their House race in 1991 after House Democrats redrew the lines. He has been in the Senate since 2001 and won 64 percent of the vote in his re-election bid in 2011.
Hanger is the Republican with the most votes to lose based on the new plan’s ramifications, VPAP reports.
“The district I’m in [under the new plan], it’s not one I like as well as the one I already have,” he said. “I had some mixed feelings about beginning this process all over again. … I really am disappointed with the proposal that would take Rockingham [County] out of my district.”
Hanger represents most of southeastern Rockingham County, which under the new plan would fall to Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.
“From my standpoint, it wasn’t on my agenda of things to be concerned about in the General Assembly,” Hanger said. “I wound up going along with my caucus. It wouldn’t be just my call if it was a better plan or not. I second-guess my decision. At this point, if the plan is good enough to withstand scrutiny, it will advance.
“If it’s not good enough, then it won’t.”
And it may not.
Since the Senate plan was tacked onto a House bill, the House gets final say. That chamber has pushed off a vote on the plan for days — a possible sign that the measure is doomed — but is expected to discuss it today.
Passage in the Republican-heavy House is no guarantee because House Speaker Bill Howell may rule that the rewritten bill is not “germane” to its initial purpose of only technical changes to House districts, lawmakers say.
If the legislation does make it through both chambers, the bill also would have to survive a possible veto by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who expressed his displeasure with the Senate’s action following the vote.
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