- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2000

Don't tell Virginia Lt. Gov. John H. Hager he's unlikely to win the Republican nomination for governor or the governor's office, for that matter in 2001. He's faced tough odds before.
In 1973, after coming down with polio from his son's vaccine, Mr. Hager beat the odds to fight back to an active though wheelchair-bound life.
As a political rookie in the 1997 race for lieutenant governor, he was down eight points with two weeks to go. He ended up winning eight of 11 congressional districts in the final count, on the way to a Republican sweep of the top three state offices.
In Richmond today, Mr. Hager will officially announce his candidacy for governor in 2001, and once again he'll have to surprise just about everyone.
His vision for a Hager administration does not break from that of recent GOP governors, who have held the office since 1993.
"We're not trying to make a major course correction. What we're trying to do is make it even better," he said in an interview with The Washington Times.
His priorities are the same: building roads, but not having to raise taxes to do it; pushing for choices, like charter schools, in education; fighting drugs and crime; being inclusive; and maintaining a business-friendly environment especially for technology businesses.
One big concern is avoiding in Virginia what has happened in Silicon Valley, where quality of life is threatened by congestion, he said.
As lieutenant governor, Mr. Hager's biggest push has been for highway safety he was a strong supporter of the failed bill that would have let police stop a car because an occupant wasn't wearing a seat belt and he has been a loyal soldier for the governor and Republicans as he presides over the Senate.
"I think my track record is so broad and so deep I'm not going to spend a lot of time rehashing my track record. That's for people to look up. What I'm going to talk about is the future, not the past," he said.
Mr. Hager's past will certainly be a target.
One issue that's sure to dog him, especially among Northern Virginia voters, is his more than 30 years of service as a tobacco executive.
But Mr. Hager said he doesn't see it being an issue. "It was a job, and in the days I took a job with American Tobacco Company, it was considered to be a prime job. Tobacco was king in Virginia. Tobacco was the main economic mainstay of Virginia."
Another problem for his relations with the Washington suburbs is a quote in the Bristol Herald Courier last July, in which he referred to them as the "elite in Northern Virginia."
Mr. Hager denies ever using the phrase and said his campaign staff doesn't remember him saying that either.
But opponents are unlikely to let the quote drop.
In the GOP nomination race, Mr. Hager will face Attorney General Mark L. Earley. The nominee will be chosen at a party convention next year.
The convention winner will have to face presumptive Democratic nominee Mark R. Warner in 2001.
Mr. Hager has supporters among both the centrist and conservative arms of the party.
"I think he stands the best chance of any Republican of being able to win over swing voters," says Adrian Cronauer, a Northern Virginia resident who considers Mr. Hager close to his socially centrist, economically conservative philosophy. Mr. Cronauer, who was the basis for Robin Williams' character in "Good Morning, Vietnam," was master of ceremonies at a Hager fund-raiser in December.
Another supporter, David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said Mr. Hager's campaign style appeals to all voters.
"I think he has demonstrated over time he's a hell of a candidate," Mr. Keene said. "He's got more energy, campaigns harder and does it better than most people you can name."
Even though the position of lieutenant governor requires only part-time attention, Mr. Hager promised in 1997 he would work at it full time and travel the state on his own money.
He's done that to the tune of 80,000 miles in 1999 alone.
Mr. Keene recounted a story, well publicized at the time, during Mr. Hager's first year presiding over the Senate about one such challenge.
Driving to an evening session, Mr. Hager's car was hit by a teen-ager driving 90 mph. Mr. Hager suffered minor injuries, but the rescue squad wanted him to get a check-up.
Mr. Hager refused, not wanting to ruin his perfect record of presiding over every Senate session.
But his wheelchair had been bent out of shape in the accident. It was no problem, said Mr. Keene: "Naturally, you'd know John would have a hammer to straighten out the wheelchair."
He made it in time to preside.

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