- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003

Two of Virginia’s most topsy-turvy state Senate races have unfolded in the lower Shenandoah Valley near Roanoke, where a conservative Republican incumbent is accused of going tax happy and a Democratic incumbent is tangling with the off-again, on-again campaign of his rival.

“It is a strange situation,” says state Sen. Emmet W. Hanger Jr., 55, an Augusta County Republican accused by his Democratic challenger of supporting several tax increases.

Despite Mr. Hanger’s reputation as one of the most fiscally and socially conservative members of the Republican-dominated General Assembly, Steven E. Sisson insists the senator “wants to tax everything that moves.”

“Down in the ‘inverted universe’ of the 24th District, conservatism wins and anti-tax is the winning message,” says Mr. Sisson, 46. “I am that candidate.”

Meanwhile, Sen. W. Roscoe Reynolds, a 61-year-old Henry County Democrat, has been running against Republican nominee Thomas L. Peterson, who has dropped in and out of the race and still continues to wage a “ghost” campaign.

“He’s dropped out twice and got back in it twice,” Reynolds campaign manager Matt Mansell says of Mr. Peterson. “Nobody has ever seen anything like this. … He is turning it into a circus.”

Mr. Peterson, 44, of Willis, backed out of the race in mid-September, after questions were raised during a televised debate about his unpaid child-support payments and in a subsequent article in the Roanoke Times about his 1996 drunken-driving conviction and a bankruptcy filing.

Mr. Peterson blames his rival for digging up his unflattering history, a charge the Reynolds campaign denies.

“They were looking to bury me because [Mr. Reynolds] is not popular in his home base and the rest of the district doesn’t know his name,” says Mr. Peterson, who is running on a pro-business platform in a district with the highest unemployment rates in the state.

“I’m sure they were scared,” he says. “So, as soon as I dropped out, I’m sure they were very happy. … But I still believe I can win.”

Even if Mr. Peterson isn’t going door to door in a traditional campaign, Mr. Reynolds can’t take the election for granted. The senator is a virtually unknown to about 70,000 of his new constituents since the district was redrawn two years ago.

Likewise, Mr. Hanger is taking his challenger seriously, although he’s sure the voters will see through Mr. Sisson’s campaign rhetoric.

“If I believed him, I wouldn’t note for me, either,” Mr. Hanger says. “[However,] the voters there will not be misled by someone who has no track record whatsoever but has decided that, if he wants to get elected, he has to adopt a conservative viewpoint.”

Mr. Hanger says his opponent has taken his high-profile position as co-chairman of a legislative commission on tax reform and twisted the commission’s proposals to appear as if they are tax increases. Mr. Hanger says he actually is proposing to repeal taxes.

“That’s one of the shortcomings of politics,” Mr. Hanger says. “All I’ve got is the truth.”

Mr. Sisson isn’t buying it. “On the tax restructuring committee, they made recommendations that look like tax increases to me,” he says. “It doesn’t look like tax equality or tax neutrality. It looks like tax increases.”

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