HARRISONBURG — Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, and Democratic challenger Annette Hyde shared similar ideas during a debate for the Daily News-Record’s Valley Polity podcast, with few things creating disagreement between the two candidates.
One topic that stirred the pot was whether college athletes should be able to hire agents and earn money from endorsement deals like professional athletes.
“Let’s face it — the NCAA generates hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue every single year. While a college education is indeed valuable to these athletes, it doesn’t compensate them for the value they produce nor the damage they do to their bodies,” Hyde said.
Hyde is looking to oust Hanger in the 24th Senate District, which covers parts of Augusta, Rockingham, Culpeper, Greene and Madison counties along with the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro. Hanger has been the 24th Senate District representative since 1996.
When it came to paying college athletes, Hanger was strongly opposed.
“It is good to have the school spirit and all of that and groom athletes in our high schools and even in grade schools for competition, but sometimes we take it way too serious and that is really obvious in our higher education system,” Hanger said.
When the General Assembly voted to expand Medicaid in 2018, Hanger was one of four Republican senators who joined Democrats to pass the measure. To ensure Medicaid expansion stays in Virginia, Hanger said he would work to voice the facts.
“I will continue to resist and will work to basically point out the facts on how well it is working,” he said.
Since Medicaid has been available to more Virginians this year, more than 320,000 people have enrolled, Hanger said.
“For that population, we already had about 30,000 people present, for treatment, that have serious mental health issues, 18,000 people present for serious substance abuse issues. So we are making big progress,” Hanger said.
Hanger said he is working on creating a waiver for a work requirement to be put in place, but Hyde said the work requirement would prevent people from getting on Medicaid.
“When people are healthy, people are going to want to go to work,” Hyde said.
While in favor of Medicaid expansion, Hyde said its services should be expanded to include dental, vision and hearing services.
During her campaign, Hyde said she spoke with a woman in Madison County who was in need of dental services, but could not afford it.
“I would promote an option to buy in to Medicaid at the state level so people can get insurance based on their income,” she said.
Hanger added that while members of his own party are still resistant to Medicaid expansion, he said Republicans are beginning to understand the benefits it has.
“I think the overwhelming majority now of Democrats and Republicans recognize that it was a good move,” Hanger said. “It stabilized out budget and affordable health care, particularly in rural Virginia where we were in dire stretch for a health care delivery system.”
A mass shooting in Virginia Beach in May put gun violence on lawmakers’ radar, with Gov. Ralph Northam convening a special session of the General Assembly in July to tackle the issue. The Republican-controlled General Assembly adjourned the session and referred all proposed bills to the Virginia State Crime Commission for review. The legislature will reconvene following the Nov. 5 election.
Hanger proposed a bill during the special session to establish a two-year joint subcommittee to study numerous issues related to firearms, firearms safety, violence and Second Amendment rights.
“It is a tough issue that we are struggling with now nationally, and I am noted in Richmond for being an advocate for commonsense solutions and on this one, I attempted to position myself in that manner, obviously representing a rural constituency,” Hanger said.
Hanger said there is still room for conversations on background checks in terms of how extensively the Commonwealth provides background checks, along with red flag laws.
Hyde agreed with Hanger’s stance on continuing the conversation of gun violence.
“As Emmett has said before, we must protect the Second Amendment,” Hyde said. “However, commonsense gun legislation can keep people safe and preserve their rights. Universal background checks, red flag laws and banning bump stock and high-capacity magazines are examples.”