2017-03-29 / Featured / Front Page

Amid partisan gridlock, Sen. Amanda Chase makes her own path


State Sen. Amanda Chase works in the studio earlier this month during an airing of her weekly radio show, “Cut to the Chase with Sen. Chase” on WNTW AM 820. 
ASH DANIEL State Sen. Amanda Chase works in the studio earlier this month during an airing of her weekly radio show, “Cut to the Chase with Sen. Chase” on WNTW AM 820. ASH DANIEL It’s early March, and state Sen. Amanda Chase is sitting in a cramped radio booth at the studios for WNTW AM 820 in Chester.

Clad in a teal blazer, Chase is prepping for a show that will recap her recent legislative session, including a discussion of the coal ash bill she co-sponsored. Soon it’s 4 o’clock, and the intro music for Chase’s show begins to play.

“Good afternoon, and welcome to ‘Cut to the Chase with Sen. Chase,’” she says into the microphone. “If you have a question about today’s topic, I invite you to call in.”

Two years ago, the Republican Chase rode a wave of tea party sentiment to elected office when she challenged and defeated incumbent state Sen. Stephen Martin in a three-way primary battle. With two legislative sessions under her belt, Chase has established herself as a consensus builder who is unafraid to speak out on controversial issues or break with the Republican establishment. “Quite honestly, this was not on my bucket list,” she says of entering politics. “My goal was to work at the Federal Reserve in Richmond and serve in management. Finance is really my love and my background.”

A year after taking office, Amanda Chase has earned a reputation as an independent-minded, constituent-focused state senator. She also hosts a weekly radio show. 
ASH DANIEL A year after taking office, Amanda Chase has earned a reputation as an independent-minded, constituent-focused state senator. She also hosts a weekly radio show. ASH DANIEL Born in Alabama, Chase moved to Bon Air when she was 11 and attended Monacan High. After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1992 with a double major in finance and management, she worked a series of jobs at firms such as Primerica Financial Services, First North American National Bank, and Signet Bankcard. She then left the private sector to work for the Virginia Student Assistance Authority before heading to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

In 1996, Chase left the workforce to raise her four children, whom she homeschooled for a time. It was through her kids’ swim team that she became active in local politics. While serving as the team’s coach, she learned of a proposal to put a major thoroughfare through the middle of her neighborhood. Concerned for the children’s safety, she joined nine other parents in their efforts to stave off construction of the road.

In 2009, Chase held her first paid political position as the Chesterfield County Coordinator for the Republican candidates, and worked on the inaugural committee for Gov. Bob Mc- Donnell after he was elected. She then worked as a political director for the campaign of Congressman Eric Cantor, and began her own campaign management firm in 2010, helping politicians like Cantor, former Congressman Randy Forbes and current Congressman Dave Brat with all elements of campaigning. She also served a stint as Forbes’ political director in 2012.

But it was when state Sen. Stephen Martin lost the 2013 Republican primary for lieutenant governor in Chesterfield that Chase resolved to get in the ring herself.

“It was at that point that I decided we needed fresh new leadership in Chesterfield,” Chase says. “We need someone who has concern for the people, someone who’s transparent, someone that really wants to help people learn how to engage their government.”

In 2015, Chase challenged and defeated Martin in a three-way primary battle for his Senate seat. Martin, an establishment Republican, had served in the Senate since 1994.

Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst with the University of Virginia, says Martin’s run for lieutenant governor may have made him seem out of touch with Chesterfield.

“Everyone was really surprised [at Chase’s win], because Martin had been there a really long time, but at the same time, [it may have] made him a little vulnerable,” Skelley says.

Since defeating Martin, Chase has shown a willingness to go up against the Republican establishment. For years, multiple Virginia legislators have tried to change the 1986 law known as the “Kings Dominion Law,” which prohibits school divisions from starting before Labor Day unless they qualify for a waiver.

Republicans typically oppose changes to that provision, saying the current law helps the tourism industry. Chase disagrees.

“My own majority leader, Sen. Tommy Norment, that’s his issue, and I oppose him every session on that issue,” Chase says. “We have a very respectful relationship, but I think that we should put our kids first. I’m very pro-business, but in situations like this, I don’t mind breaking from party tradition.”

Chase has also opposed funding for the economic development coalition GO Virginia, a private-sector growth and job creation initiative championed by fellow Republican and speaker designee Del. Kirk Cox.

“It sounds like we’re helping businesses, but it’s basically taking our taxpayer money and picking winners and losers in the business community,” Chase says. In her view, the state budget put too much funding toward economic development initiatives two years ago. She was the lone senator to vote against the state budget.

And while environmental legislation is more typically the purview of Democrats, beginning in 2016, Chase twice co-sponsored a bill that would require Dominion Virginia Power to evaluate the cost of excavating tons of coal ash from its large, unlined containment ponds and transporting the substance to a lined landfill. Chase lobbied her Republican colleagues in the Senate to support the bill.

Chase says she understands the need to keep electricity affordable, but also has concerns for the environment. Though the General Assembly passed a de-fanged version of the bill earlier this year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has proposed amendments that would restore its original intent (see story on page 4).

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax County, co-sponsored the bill with Chase.

“While very principled in her positions, Senator Chase is always willing to keep an open mind on issues and look for opportunities to fight for issues that are important to her district and once she commits, she’s a fierce advocate,” says Surovell via email.

Though politicians are often friendly toward Dominion, Skelley says Chase’s position coheres with her tea party leanings.

“Dominion is obviously a massive energy corporation, has an incredible amount of influence on American politics,” Skelley says. “It’s the biggest donor to political candidates in the state. Someone like Chase who’s coming from that small government conservative outlook could be critical [of Dominion].”

Access is also important to Chase. In addition to meeting with constituents, she can often be found at community events, has a strong presence on social media and is known to give out her cellphone number to citizens.

“I’ve always felt like there was a big chasm between the people and their elected leaders,” Chase says. “[Elected leaders] were always revered and esteemed, but they always seemed out of reach and untouchable. I wanted to change that paradigm. I wanted to be the girl next door.”

Chase also invites callers to talk about current issues on her weekly radio show every Thursday.

“Nobody stays in touch at the grassroots level with constituents [better] than she does,” says Charlie Davis, a longtime political consultant who’s worked in and around the General Assembly since the early 1980s.

Davis calls Chase a “willing listener,” happy to discuss any issue and unafraid to let her positions evolve and change when presented new evidence. Two years into her term, he also says she isn’t apprehensive about taking action.

“That first term in office is a tremendous learning experience for most anyone who’s elected,” Davis says. “In her first term, she has not been a backbencher. She has been willing to step to the plate, advance some ideas which have controversy around them. She has not been a timid player.” ¦

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