SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler is running as a Republican to represent the newly drawn 17th District in the Virginia State Senate.
The new district, which includes much of Sen. Louise Lucas’ former District 18, runs from Brunswick County and part of Dinwiddie County in the west to Suffolk, Isle of Wight and a portion of Portsmouth to the east. Sadler’s hometown of Emporia was among the areas being represented by Lucas, who lives in Portsmouth.
There’s no current incumbent living or running in the district in 2023, per VPAP.org. Lucas will now be running in her newly drawn 18th District and will face off in the Democratic primary against a fellow longtime Hampton Roads politician, state Sen. Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake). It’s all through new redistricting that changed election maps statewide for the next decade.
The new 17th leans Republican overall, per VPAP, and more than 102,000 voters (about 59%) of the district are in either Suffolk or Isle of Wight. Just over 50% of voters are white, 41% are black, about 5% are multiracial and just over 3% are either Asian or “other.”
Voters in the district have voted for Democrats in the past, especially in 2017, where they sided with all three statewide Democratic candidates, VPAP shows. They also sided with Democrat Tim Kaine in the 2018 U.S. Senate race and Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016. They however did side with Republican Glenn Youngkin by five points in the 2021 governor election.
Sadler will run in the primary against current Republican House of Delegates member Emily Brewer (64th District), who has the endorsement of Virginia’s House Speaker, Todd Gilbert.
Democrat Clinton Jenkins, who currently represents the 76th District in the House of Delegates, announced back in April that he’s also running for the new District 17 seat.
Sadler, 53, officially made the announcement on Wednesday night at his Fo Sho Sports Bar & Grille in Emporia.
It’s one of his many small businesses (he also runs convenience stores, truck stops and a petroleum company) in the Emporia area. He just finished up his NASCAR career in 2019 after racing since the early 90s.
He raced more than 300 NASCAR-affiliated races, mostly at the Xfinity Series level, and his brother Elliott also was a NASCAR driver.
Hermie Sadler made news at the state level in 2021 when he sued then Gov. Ralph Northam in an effort to overturn a law that banned skilled games. Sadler featured the games at his businesses.
Sadler says he talked about running for about a year, and officially announced right after the midterm elections.
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity as far as I’m concerned, for somebody like me who is not a politician … if elected to go to Richmond I will try to bring attention to the needs and issues of this part of Virginia,” Sadler said with an interview with WAVY on Thursday.
When asked about his political views in the past and whether he identified as a conservative until recently, Sadler joked: “Well I’m a former NASCAR driver, and I’m in the petroleum business, and I sued Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and [Attorney General] Mark Herring, so you tell me.”
“I know there are going to be a lot of people that paint me as not conservative enough … that’s another thing people will decide,” he said.
As far as his three biggest issues/needs for his area, he said he wants to do what he can at the state level to help ease the impact of inflation, support law enforcement and give public schools the resources to help those with special needs. Sadler’s 24-year-old daughter Halie was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when she was two and half.
“No. 1, that I’ve dealt with every day is certainly inflation, because I’m a small business owner and I deal with other business owners … farmers, loggers, forestry industry, construction, you name it … a lot of these customers and friends are 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation businesses that I know are having trouble and going out of business … I just don’t think there’s enough attention paid to policy in Richmond and how it actually affects small businesses.”
When asked how he would tackle inflation at the state level, Sadler said “well we gotta look at taxes, first and foremost.” Sadler, who owns an oil company, also talked about the need for “energy independence” and lamented the fact that the U.S. is exporting oil (it should be noted that oil is traded on the world marketplace and prices have been influenced by recent global events such as the supply/demand shifts with the pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and OPEC reducing supply).
With energy on his mind, Sadler did say he would be open to supporting renewable energy sources in his community to help ease electric bills.
“It’s got to be a realistic approach … the solar issue is kind of a talking point around here and it’s getting to be a hot button issue … I’ll say this, I’m in favor of looking at anything that helps ease the pain and ease the burden on people right now getting crushed the most by this economy.”
He emphasized again he wants to help small businesses and said he’s not in favor of ideas such as casinos, which Lucas has championed.
“Southside is really the area of Virginia that built the economy in Virginia … we have tobacco farmers and now they tell you tobacco is no good… textiles, all these other industries that used to be in our area … we made some bad political decisions and ship jobs overseas, now they’ve started saying now let’s put casinos in that’ll fix all the problems.”
Sadler stressed he felt like politicians were catering too much to Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.
“They kind of tell us what we should be thinking in Southside Virginia and what we should be doing … none of these people live here and know what the battle is every day, and I kinda just got tired of it.”
He says there was an “overall frustration” with being represented by Lucas, a powerful figure in the state legislature, but one relatively far away and representing a more Democratic-leaning core constituency based in Portsmouth.
“In the Portsmouth area, Sen. Lucas is popular and maybe has more support … I think there’s an overall feeling that this area has been underrepresented … people I’ve talked to are looking for somebody who makes Southside Virginia a focus and not an afterthought.
Republicans currently control the House (52-48), but Democrats have a small majority in the Senate (21-19). Abortion rights look to play a major role in the 2023 races, with Gov. Glenn Youngkin saying he’ll sign “any bill … to protect life.”
When asked this year if he’d support a full abortion ban (after saying he was in favor of a 15-week ban), Youngkin talked about how with the current makeup of the General Assembly, with Democrats in control of the Senate, he’d “have to find a way to get things done.” State Sen. Amanda Chase has since said she’ll introduce a bill this January to ban all abortion in Virginia.
When asked about his stance on abortion, Sadler said he was a “pro-life candidate” and that he’d support a 15-week ban with “the normal, reasonable exceptions” such as those for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
“I would be amenable to a 15-week ban similar to what Gov. Youngkin has proposed, I think that’s reasonable … everybody’s situation is different but I believe, I’ve got a special needs child, and I believe every child deserves to be great and so I would fight for every life to have that opportunity.
Expanding on helping special needs people, Sadler says he employs several adults with special needs at his businesses and think the state needs more resources to help them, especially in schools.
“There are not enough special education teachers in Virginia, there’s not enough resources, there’s not enough training … we have to do more at a young age to make sure the schools follow through … so that later in life they have what they need to be productive citizens.”
Sadler will run against Del. Emily Brewer in the Republican primary, who he’s met and supported in the past. He didn’t expand upon their possible policy differences but did say he wanted to give the voters a choice between an experienced politician in Brewer and an “outsider” with no political record.
“My goal is to send the best possible candidate to the general election because if you live in Southside Virginia and have conservative values, we can not get this wrong, we can not lose this opportunity that we have in front of us with this new district that includes a lot of these areas that need better representation.”
All 40 State Senate seats and all 100 House of Delegates are up for grabs in 2023. Primaries will be in June and the general election is on November 7, 2023.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said a part of Chesapeake was included in the new 17th District.