Saturday, May 10, 2014

An Opponent for Ralph Smith, but Can He Win?

Michael Hamlar
Now here's an interesting Virginia Senate pairing, announced today: Ralph Smith, the dumbest man in Virginia government and the man holding the 19th District Senate seat for two terms, will be opposed in the fall by bright, accomplished newcomer Michael Hamlar, an owner of Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home. Hamlar is 32 and lives in Roanoke County. He's married to Katina Hamlar, who works in mergers and acquisitions, and has three kids.

He's a former football player at Wake Forest University and, of course, he's black in a very, very red district, one made so by extreme gerrymandering. The district includes all or part of--get this--Salem,  Roanoke, Bedford, Carroll, Floyd, Franklin, Montgomery and Wythe Counties. Rural enough for you?

Smith, the former mayor of Roanoke (he won with 34 percent of the vote in a three-man field, and served one term, which was noteworthy for the number of times he was the 1 in 6-1 votes), squeaked into office by beating moderate Republican Brandon Bell in the primary. He beat both Bell and his Democratic opponent by 51-49 percent margins. Smith is far, far to the right and Hamlar appears to be a moderate with business leanings.

This would be the "Year of the Kid" for the Dems in this region should Hamlar beat Smith. Sam Rasoul slipped into office by beating Roanoke vice mayor David Trinkle for the Democratic nomination to the House (Republican opposition was negligible).

Hamlar was one of the "20 Under 40" selections by the former Blue Ridge Business Journal (which I edited) a few years ago, a nod to his business acumen. He's involved in CHIP, Family Services of Roanoke, the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, and the Legislative Advocacy Committee with the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce.

He and his wife founded Hamlar Enterprises, a business brokerage and consulting firm that serves clients within Roanoke and beyond. He has an associate degree from mortuary school at John Tyler Community College and an MBA from from Liberty University. He's pursuing his PhD in business administration from Walden University and is an instructor of business management courses at the American National University Roanoke Valley Campus.

All that sounds impressive, but when you consider that he is African-American in a red (Republican) district, the climb up the steep hill could well be a slide backward.

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