Candidates seeking the 24th District Senate seat took the stage last week, introducing themselves and answering questions at a forum sponsored by Rural Madison.
Incumbent candidate Emmett Hanger and candidate Annette Hyde answered questions from moderator Ed Scott about everything from education to immigration.
Hanger is an Augusta County resident with military ties having served as the former commander of the Harrisonburg National Guard and as an infantry officer in the army. He and his wife, Sharon, have five children and 15 grandchildren. He is wrapping up his 24th year in the Senate and serves in a number of leadership positions. Hyde is a Madison County resident, having purchased her home with her husband Clint, in 2013 and relocating there permanently in 2016. The two have two adult sons. Hyde is a yoga teacher and was inspired to seek election after the most recent presidential campaign controversy and the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as the secretary of education.
Hyde and Hanger spoke about the importance of education funding.
Hyde said funding has not been a priority since 2008. She noted that Madison Primary School is in need of a major renovation and that Senate Bill 1330 sought to create a $3 billion fund for construction, repair and modernization of schools. The bill was passed by in the finance committee, but Hyde said if the state can give tax incentives to Amazon it can fund rural schools.
Hanger said the state is currently rolling out a public-private partnership for preschool and agreed with Hyde that there hasn’t been adequate funding for education, but it’s being worked on. He said a measure is being looked at to change the composite index to more adequately reflect rural areas where land is in land use. He said the state will also go through re-benchmarking and play catch-up.
Hanger and Hyde spoke about immigration. Hanger said the country is a nation of immigrants and that immigrants are needed, especially in rural areas where they support farm operations. He said he thinks the federal government dropped the ball a few years ago when it didn’t update immigration laws. He said he also worked on legislation to provide an avenue for those who came into the country as children to become legal citizens before the age of 18 and also for immigrant college students to qualify for in-state tuition if their parents are in the country working and contributing.
Hyde agreed with Hanger that immigrants are important. She said she’d like to see a revamping of immigration policies and that the country should be welcome to all people.
Hyde said for some, the Affordable Care Act is the only option for health insurance. She said there are still lots of people who can’t afford healthcare. She’d like to see a state option to buy into Medicaid which she said would increase the risk pool. She said it’s a simple option to get people insured and noted that rural hospitals are closing because so many of the patients they see are uninsured.
Hanger said he worked on the streamlining of Medicaid, the end result of which was to expand the program. He said after some resistance, that was done and 315,000 people have enrolled statewide. Even so, he said that didn’t take care of everything and the state is still working on it, especially in terms of mental health delivery. He said things like telehealth medicine are also saving costs.
Equal Rights Amendment
Hanger said women are equal, but the Equal Rights Amendment was turned down in 2018 because it was not properly in front of the Senate. He also said at the time, there was no one in the Republican caucus to vote in favor of it. Since then, he said he’s worked to get the votes and it was passed out of the Senate, but failed on the floor in a narrow vote. He said some have tried to tie the amendment to the abortion issue, but he doesn’t buy into that notion. He said the amendment states that women have the same rights under the Constitution as men.
Hyde said the amendment is needed to protect women from discrimination. She said the same strict scrutiny is needed in the courts as racial, national origin or religious discrimination. She said it’s time women are treated the same as men and not as second hand citizens under the Constitution. She said she strongly supports the Equal Rights Amendment.
Hyde said she’s in favor of increasing the minimum wage, noting that in Harrisonburg, someone has to make $11 per hour to afford a one bedroom apartment. She said she favors raising the minimum wage incrementally to $15 per hour by 2020 and said those making a living wage will no longer need to rely on state-supported resources.
Hanger said minimum wage is a function of the market and noted that the average wage in Harrisonburg is $11 per hour. He said there are many sections of the market where the wage is adequate, but that there are still some lower areas. However, he said, the inequity is beginning to take care of itself and its gradually being erased as more women enter the marketplace.
Hanger said lobbyists represent a lot of good causes, some he supports and some he doesn’t. He said they are an integral part of the system because they give information; however that can be abused if a legislator relies too heavily on the advice of lobbyists and doesn’t do their own research.
Hyde said lobbyists dictate a lot of legislation that gets passed. She said she’s in favor of limits to campaign contributions by individuals and that lots of decisions get made for money.
Both Hyde and Hanger said they support the second amendment.
Hyde is a founding member of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement fighting for public safety measures to protect people from gun violence. She said she’s in favor of gun laws including universal background checks, laws to ensure weapons locked away from children and red flag laws that would prevent those at risk of mental health issues from having weapons. She said the weapons would be removed for 14 days and the owner would need to petition the court for their return. She said if it saves one life, it’s worth it.
Hanger said he carried legislation to make gun laws the same across the state and support concealed carry and hunting laws. He said gun laws need to be reasonable and that he voted against concealed carry without a permit. Hanger said he carried a bill that would have required daycares to lock up guns and ammunition when children were present in the home. He said the Senate is currently in a special session considering gun laws and the things mentioned by Hyde could be looked at.
Energy and distribution
Hanger said energy distribution is changing. He said the state has regulated entities, including Dominion, that provide most of the power and they are a regulated monopoly controlled by the State Corporation Commission. He said over several years, energy companies have gotten into the limelight for being cavalier about where they place towers, lines and pipelines. He said there are opportunities for growth in the economy and options that are available, some of which he said are pretty exciting.
Hyde said Dominion has an interest in fossil fuels and noted that pipelines only operate for 10-15 years, but leave behind devastation. She said Rappahannock Electric Cooperative signed a 45-year agreement with Old Dominion Energy Company and that the existing companies are making it difficult to have solar energy. She said she’s in favor of legalizing third party power purchase agreements.
Hyde said land, water and air belong to all and should be preserved for future generations. She said the state should have joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and actually loses money by not doing so. She said she’s concerned with changes in recycling since China is no longer accepting U.S. recyclables. She said there needs to be more biodegradable and reusable efforts to store items to provide a cleaner environment for years to come.
Hanger said 20 years ago, he carried legislation that created the land conservation act and the land conservation foundation which recently celebrated the preservation of its 100th farm state-wide. He said Virginia is ahead of Maryland and Pennsylvania in its efforts to cleanup the Cheseapeake Bay. He said the state is looking critically at fossil fuels and strict restrictions have been placed on coal fire plants. He said he’s pleased with where the state is at, but there is still work to do and he supports preserving farms and forests.
In closing, Hyde said she’d like to work on rural broadband and removing the roadblocks and legal obstructions. She said more funding is needed for the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) to extend broadband to underserved areas, or complete the last mile. She said she backs the governor’s initiative to connect homes and businesses. She also thanked those in attendance at the forum.
“You have a choice in November,” she said. “I think you for being here tonight and for your choice.”
Hanger said he believes the state is on a good trajectory in terms of broadband. He said the year before last, $4 million was set aside for VATI grants and it was expanded to $19 million last year. He said it can’t be done all at one time, but needs to be done with governments and businesses. He also noted that he takes his job seriously and is a reasonable, conservative Republican which he believes represents the views of those in the area. He said Madison County is a great place with good people.
“I enjoy representing you,” he said. “I hope I have the opportunity to continue doing that.”