Brewer, Sadler vie for conservative vote in Virginia Senate District 17 forum
Published 5:00 am Friday, April 14, 2023
Virginia State Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, and Emporia businessman Hermie Sadler shared their views on a variety of topics and engaged in some pointed exchanges Thursday evening, April 13, before a crowd of more than 120 people at the Virginia Senate District 17 Republican candidate forum in Franklin.
The forum, sponsored by The Tidewater News, Windsor Weekly, The Smithfield Times and Suffolk News-Herald, was held at the Paul D. Camp Community College Workforce Development Center and was also livestreamed on each of the publications’ websites.
The complete video recording of the forum is available at the end of this story.
THE STAKES OF THIS ELECTION
The Smithfield Times publisher and owner Steve Stewart moderated the forum and opened it by noting that the 17th Senate District is a new district resulting from redistricting following the completion of the 2020 Census.
As explained by the Virginia Public Access Project, the new district includes all of Western Tidewater, including the cities of Suffolk and Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County.
VPAP.org states that the district also includes all of Brunswick County, Greensville County and the city of Emporia, along with part of Dinwiddie County and the cities of Portsmouth and Chesapeake.
Suffolk represents the largest share of the district at 43.56%, with 71,608 registered voters, and Isle of Wight has the second-largest share at 18.94%, with 31,140 registered voters, according to VPAP. Southampton has the fourth-largest share at 8.03%, with 13,205 registered voters.
“The stakes are high,” Stewart said. “Larry Sabato, well-known political analyst and prognosticator of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, says that the 2023 Virginia General Assembly election will be the nation’s best political barometer of what to expect in the 2024 presidential and congressional elections.
“And within Virginia, the 17th is one of a handful of so-called ‘purple’ or swing districts that will determine whether the Senate remains in Democratic control or flips Republican,” Stewart continued. “Should the Senate go Republican and should the House remain Republican, Gov. Glenn Youngkin would then have a clear path to enactment of his conservative policy agenda.”
Brewer and Sadler will meet in a June 20 primary, and the winner will advance to the general election to meet state Del. Clinton Jenkins, D-Suffolk, who is unopposed for the Democratic Party nomination.
WHO IS THE MOST CONSERVATIVE?
Brewer and Sadler expressed agreement on a variety of issues addressed during the course of the forum, but there were also key moments of contrast. Some of those moments will be addressed in this story.
Stewart dedicated part of the forum to posing questions that pertained to topics discussed by Brewer and Sadler’s respective campaigns in press releases, social media posts and emails.
One of those discussion points sought to answer the question “Who is the true conservative?” or “Who is the most conservative?” between Brewer and Sadler.
Stewart asked each candidate during the forum what made them the best choice for conservative voters.
Sadler said, “Anybody who knows my family and me personally knows who I am, what I stand for, and my family’s always known what we stand for as well. And I always say what I feel and what I think and what I plan to do if I’m elected to represent the 17th District of the Senate.
“I think the challenge, somewhat, for Del. Brewer is that my personal opinion is I don’t think she’s as conservative as she wants the voting base to think she is,” he continued. “And so especially when we thought we were headed for a convention, I think there was a race on her campaign’s team to get as far right as possible.”
He said that sometimes one has to simply look at what people do instead of what they say.
“But I know who I am, what I stand for, what my family stands for,” he said. “I know I’m running for the right reasons. I know I can help the people of the 17th District in more ways than one, and most people in the Republican Party can sniff out somebody who’s not a true conservative sooner rather than later.”
Brewer opened her answer by first saying that regardless of the method of nomination — convention, primary, etc. — she feels confident in her ability.
“Second, I’m proud of my conservative credentials because I have a voting record to back it up,” she said, citing a 100% rating from Virginia Citizens Defense League and an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, both ratings highlighting her strong support of the Second Amendment.
“But also I stood by and stood up for pro-life values,” she said, adding that she has done this in a variety of ways. “I’ve done that through the work I’ve done on foster care and adoption. I’ve done that when I’ve stood up on the House floor, and when House Democrats tried to enshrine 40th-week abortion in the Virginia Constitution this year, I stood up proudly and stood against that because it’s wrong, it’s barbaric, and it shouldn’t stand in our Virginia Constitution because it should not belong there.”
She stated that being conservative is not just about a voting record; it is also about the effort put in daily.
“I am a battle-tested conservative, and I will tell you why — every single election, I’ve out-performed the ticket, … I ran ahead of Gov. Youngkin,” she said. “We’re going to need somebody in a toss-up district that can knock (on) the doors, talk to the voters, go down any single street, regardless of the neighborhood, their socioeconomic status, where they’ve lived or what they look like to talk to voters, because otherwise, this seat is gone.
“And so I know that I’m battle-tested, I know that I have a strong conservative voting record, and I know if I have the opportunity and honor to represent you all as the Republican nominee that I will be able to push that conservative message, I will be able to tell voters why it’s a positive, strong message, and I will be able to be victorious in November because I’ve proven it previously,” she said.
ALLEGATIONS AGAINST SADLER
Stewart noted that many voters in the 17th District have recently received what is called a “push poll” that he said has “caused quite a stir between your campaigns.”
He utilized the following definition from Wikipedia to explain what a push poll is: “A push poll is an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to manipulate or alter prospective voters’ views under the guise of conducting an opinion poll.”
Working through some of the questions or assertions made in the push poll, Stewart said one assertion was that Sadler supports radical Democrats.
“Yeah,” Sadler said, “that’s been a narrative by my opponent’s campaign since I started, that I or my wife had donated money to Democrats, and that is not true.”
Stewart noted that the Brewer campaign included the supporting detail of a contribution by Sadler’s family’s company to then-Del. Roslyn Tyler, a Democrat who represented the 75th District of Virginia.
Sadler alluded to this contribution as happening before he and his sister took over majority ownership of the company.
“I’ll say it again — I have never given money to a Democrat,” he said. “You have to dig a little bit for the truth.”
Stewart noted that the push poll did use the plural — Democrats — in its allegation about Sadler’s support, and Brewer brought up another possible example.
She said, “Correct me if I’m wrong, and I’m sure you will, Mr. Sadler, but even on your podcast … I heard it myself, is that you and (Virginia) Sen. (Bill) Stanley said that if you were the nominee, that (Democratic state Sen.) Louise Lucas wouldn’t move and run here. And you said that if I were the nominee, she would.”
“This seat is too precious for us to throw away to the Democrats,” Brewer added, expressing concern about the possibility of deals being made with Democrats going into November.
Sadler said, “Your push poll said that I had made a deal with Louise Lucas to help my campaign.”
He then asked for Brewer and her campaign to “provide documentation, communication, anything between Louise Lucas and I about any kind of deal that I made with Louise Lucas of any kind to help my campaign.”
“The audio is on the podcast,” she said, later adding, “Was it a joke?”
Sadler explained that the comment made on the podcast was originally made to him and his daughter by Lucas’ chief of staff when Sadler and his daughter were visiting the capitol on Autism Advocacy Day.
“I don’t know if it was in jest or tongue-in-cheek or not, but in our group while we were there, her chief of staff made the comment in front of the group that if I was the nominee, that Louise would not come to the 17th District,” Sadler said. “So if you want more clarification, maybe you can ask Louise. She didn’t say it to me directly, and I don’t know what her chief of staff meant by that exactly other than to insinuate that she’d prefer not to run against me. That’s what I took from it.”
Brewer then stated that in the past, Sadler has actually praised some of Lucas’ work.
“I just would like to know what work is that, because she literally has destroyed Virginia as she’s gone further and further left in the last couple years in office,” Brewer said.
“Give me an example of me praising her work,” Sadler said.
Brewer said, “On Twitter, you said she was a great representative for Southside in a picture y’all took together.”
Sadler said the bigger issue is that he and his family, as a business owner, have had to deal with Democratic Party representatives for the last 20 years.
“There’s been no Republican representation, there’s been nobody running and winning office seats,” he said, adding that he does not have a personal relationship with Lucas to amount to anything. “But if you run and operate businesses, you have to deal with the people that you have.
“But I’ll ask you again that I would like to know more about what the allegation is of my dealings with Louise Lucas, because the only thing… fuel taxes, minimum wage, the things like that that they are trying to ruin small business with has been the crux of my communication with Louise Lucas,” he added.
APPROACHES ON HANDLING SOLAR FARMS
Stewart noted that localities are grappling with how to manage the proliferation of solar farms across Western Tidewater.
“Some localities, including my home county of Isle of Wight, are even considering capping the number of acres in the county that can be devoted to solar farms,” Stewart said.
He asked the candidates if the state should get more involved in the regulation of solar farms.
“First, my answer to that is ‘yes,’” Brewer said. “And I take special contention that they’re not solar farms, they’re solar projects, because a farm means something very, very different I think to me and some people from this community.”
She said that when it comes to solar farms, “we still do not have a clear understanding of what occurs at the end of shelf life. Oftentimes we see solar projects that bounce from one LLC to the next, very swiftly, and localities just have not figured out, to some degree, how to really put teeth into making sure these companies are accountable that come in, in the dead of night, put up a solar farm and flip that company just as quickly and leave.
“I think we’ve seen even towards the far side of Surry County and Isle of Wight that that has absolutely occurred,” she added.
Sadler said, “It’s tough sometimes, because one of the reasons why I’m running is I don’t think the government should ever be in the habit of telling a landowner what they can and can’t do with their property, whether it be land or resources or whatever the case may be.”
As a follow-up question, Stewart later asked Sadler, “Regarding landowner rights, all localities have zoning laws, so help me understand, why would solar farm regulation be any different than telling people whether they can put a building on their land or not?”
“I didn’t say it was different,” Sadler said. “I said I don’t believe in that. So if I had anything to do with it, I would work more towards giving people the freedom and the liberty to do what they want to do with their land. I’m not suggesting that zoning is different for solar or for anything else. I’m saying overall, I’m opposed to the government telling people what to do with their property.”
Brewer said, “We have to truly look at what these solar panels may do to the environment long term, and I think that’s the bigger crux of the issue here that we really truly have to look at.”
REACTIONS TO REPUBLICAN PARTY INFIGHTING
As staff writer Stephen Faleski has previously reported, a Richmond judge ordered that the State Board of Elections hold a primary to decide the Republican Party’s nominee for Virginia’s 17th Senate District, finding in favor of an ousted GOP official’s lawsuit.
A March 9 letter from Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Susan Beals to local electoral boards listed June 20 Republican primaries for 27 Senate races, including the 17th, but a nearly identical March 10 letter showed primaries for only 26 races, the 17th no longer among them.
Dawn Jones, whom Republican officials ousted as Suffolk’s GOP chairwoman in February, has been fighting her removal and had filed a lawsuit on March 16, alleging Youngkin and Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares unlawfully pressured Beals to make the change for the benefit of one of two candidates vying for the GOP nomination.
Sadler, in a March 10 email to The Smithfield Times, had alleged a convention would give Brewer an edge because it would be presided over by one of her supporters.
Stewart explained that in addition to a lawsuit and allegations of the governor and attorney general’s heavy-handedness, “we’ve even had a criminal assault charge filed stemming from a Republican Party meeting in the 17th District.”
Stewart asked Brewer and Sadler if they have any regrets about what has been occurring and if they have any concerns that what has been occurring has damaged the party.
Brewer emphasized that a lot of people are watching the 17th Senate District race and that it is crucial for Republicans to win it if they are going to regain the state Senate.
“At the end of the day, what is the most important thing — and lest people forget — is to defeat the Democrats in November — that’s our goal, that’s our job, and that’s our calling,” she said, urging party unity.
Sadler said, “First of all, I’m glad to hear Del. Brewer say — which I agree with — that we should run a positive campaign on the issues, unite the party and send whoever the people vote for in June, send to November and support that candidate. If not, neither one of us is going to win.
“But to get back to your question as far as what happened in the Republican Party, it’s embarrassing,” he continued. “It is really and truly embarrassing, but some fights just need to be fought.”
He said he was not involved in the aforementioned lawsuit.
“I had nothing to do with it, but the fact of the matter is, the LDC, the Republicans at the grassroots level are supposed to make decisions on what the nomination process is and who the candidates are,” he said. “And a bunch of people got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, and a judge had to step in and remind them who is supposed to decide what the election nomination process is supposed to be.”
Sadler indicated that some of these fights may not help him, but they may aid another candidate in the future that decides to run.
Stewart directly asked Sadler and Brewer if they would support each other if the other received the nomination, and they both said, “Yes.”
The full video of the candidate forum can be viewed below: