UPDATED: This post previously stated that the 24th District Committee was suing the Republican Party. They aren’t. They’re suing the Commonwealth.
Emmett Hanger has a bullseye on him.
He’s served in the State Senate for nearly 20 years and has been a thorn in the side of Conservatives for a long while now, often siding with retiring Senators Walter Stosch and John Watkins in joining Democrats on key close votes. He deserves a challenge from his right – which could be achieved by just about anyone running as a Republican.
Hanger is running for reelection but his district is in legal limbo after the 24th Senate District’s Republican District Committee opted to nominate by convention instead of the Primary Hanger wanted – which conflicts with Virginia State Law which allows incumbents to choose their method of nomination – also known as the Incumbent Protection Act:
“A party shall nominate its candidate for election for a General Assembly district where there is only one incumbent of that party for the district by the method designated by that incumbent, or absent any designation by him, by the method of nomination determined by the party,” states section 24.2-509 (B) of the Virginia Code. In this case, the incumbent is Sen. Emmett Hanger and that law means he could choose an open primary or a convention for Republican voters to decide if he gets the party’s nomination for another term. The idea of an open primary however, where independent and Democratic voters could also weigh in, doesn’t sit well with members of the committee.
“The committee members are very much in agreement that the constitutional principal of freedom of association has been violated by this Incumbent Protection Act,” said committee chairman Ken Adams, who also serves as chairman of the Waynesboro Republican Committee. “This violation of the Constitution is offensive to the committee.”
This lawsuit led The Bull Elephant to speculate on whether or not Hanger would retire – even though little conversation had been had over any potential retirement.
[I]f Hanger were to force the issue and designate by Tuesday a state-run open primary as his method of renomination, he would probably trigger the litigation that has been waiting in the wings, which stands a very good chance of eliminating the biggest protection for incumbents in Virginia law, once and for all.**
But, if you’re Emmet Hanger and are faced with the possibility of leaving a legacy of defeat and upsetting the applecart for many of your colleagues for years to come, the best option may be to follow the example of Hanger’s old famously unconservative GOP colleague in the Senate, John Chichester, who made the choice to retire when faced with a similar threat in 2007 (and who has made a new life for himself by endorsing every statewide Democrat candidate since).
So, what will it be? Will Hanger choose to retire, thus ensuring preservation of the Incumbent Protection Act for at least another election cycle, or will he tough it out and see if he can fend off the legal challenge and maybe hold on to his seat for another 4 years? I think the odds favor the former option.
TBE is saying it’s Senator Hanger’s fault that there is any lawsuit because he chose to run again and declared a state run primary as the means of nomination in the 24th District. Because the moment Hanger said he was ready to go, the 24th District Committee filed suit.
Keep in mind, it’s not Emmett Hanger who is suing
fellow Republicans the state in order to defeat fellow Republicans.
The Virginia Conservative piled on, asking if the 24th GOP nomination was decided:
Yesterday, on March 2nd, the deadline to file as a candidate for the convention came and went. Surprisingly, only one candidate filed, Dan Moxley. According to the call, given that there is only one candidate, the convention will be cancelled and Moxley will be declared the official nominee.
Now, one can make an argument as to why Emmett Hanger didn’t file his paperwork for this convention. After all, doing so would add some legitimacy to a convention that he will be fighting in court. From a political perspective, Hanger would face a considerably uphill battle in a convention as it would likely be populated by Republican activists eager to oust Hanger due to his support of Medicaid expansion and previous tax hikes.
That second paragraph is key: why would Hanger file for an illegal convention?
Any lawsuit is going to face an uphill battle. While the Party does have a right to self association, the Party Plan explicitly states that committees can choose a nomination process only as permitted under Virginia Law:
SECTION D. Duties
1. Legislative District Committee
a. The Legislative District Committee shall determine whether candidates for Legislative District public office shall be nominated by Mass Meeting, Party Canvass, Convention or Primary, where permitted to do so under Virginia Law.
Emphasis ours. Virginia Law says the incumbent gets to choose. The Party Plan says that applies.
Efforts to tear Hanger down before session even ended didn’t work. Daring him to run seems to have succeeded in ensuring he was in the race — and the 24th District Republican Committee has chosen to sue
its own party, not just over state law but the Party Plan.