HARRISONBURG — State Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, is planning to break off from the Senate Republican Caucus due to dissatisfaction with caucus leaders.
Chase first voiced her concerns in a Facebook post late Thursday after a caucus meeting in which Senate Republicans re-elected Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, as their leader. Norment has led the Senate Republicans since 2008.
In an interview, Chase said that under Norment’s leadership, the caucus has failed to live up to the “Republican Creed.” Chase said she didn’t challenge Norment for caucus leader but hoped that other senior senators to the right of Norment would.
“Under Senator Norment, we’ve expanded Medicaid, raised taxes — that’s not Republican,” Chase said. “These are outside of what the GOP stands for.”
Chase has bristled at Norment and other members of the caucus over the years, as well as at local Republican leaders.
In September, the Chesterfield County GOP notified Chase that she was being kicked out of the local party following a series of controversies that upset other Republicans, including public attacks by Chase on Republican Sheriff Karl Leonard and a run-in with a Capitol Police officer.
Earlier last year, Norment and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, wrote letters to Capitol Police to apologize for Chase’s actions in which she reportedly berated the Capitol Police officer, and to express support for all members of the department.
“We’ve been cleaning up Amanda’s messes for four years and it gets kind of exhausting,” Obenshain said in an interview. “We clearly are disappointed with November’s results, we prefer winning to losing, but we fought incredibly hard. We’re proud of the effort, and our caucus is unified and committed to regaining the majority, in four years if not sooner.”
Norment said the caucus is “disappointed” by Chase’s decision but will carry on with its pursuit of a “responsible conservative agenda.”
“While we respect her right to make this decision, the people of Amelia, Chesterfield, and Colonial Heights voted to be represented by a Republican in the Senate. Now, they will not be,” Norment said. (Chase said she will continue to identify as a Republican.)
Norment added that during caucus elections, Chase “was given every opportunity to voice any concerns she may have had and to nominate any candidates for leadership she might have preferred, herself included.” She didn’t pursue either avenue, he said.
Chase said in an interview that she wrote in Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, for minority leader on her ballot.
In explaining her decision, Chase pointed to the two seats Senate Republicans lost in the Nov. 5 election. Republicans lost the seats of Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Chesterfield, and retiring Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun.
The party will now operate as the minority when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. Democrats will have a 21-19 edge in the chamber.
Chase praised the decision by House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, to step down as the party’s top leader in that chamber, which she said would help the House GOP caucus “regroup and reorganize.” Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, was elected as the next leader of the House Republican Caucus.
“That shows to me true humility and wanting to do what’s best for the commonwealth. I feel the Senate should take the same approach the House did,” Chase said. “It’s time for fresh new leadership, new ideas, new perspective. Republicans need to win again and were not going to do that under current leadership.”
There are no independents in the General Assembly. It’s unclear what impact Chase’s departure from the caucus will have on her committee assignments, which are doled out by the majority to members of the chambers’ two party caucuses.
“If they kick me off all committees, I’ll always have a floor vote. I hope I’ll be placed on committees, but I know that taking a stand sometimes comes at a cost,” Chase said.
Chase was re-elected Nov. 5, beating Democrat Amanda Pohl by about 9 percentage points.
While Chase said she remains a Republican, there is a long history of Virginia lawmakers who left their party and served as independents in the legislature.
Most prominently, Del. Lacey Putney of Bedford County, who served a record 52 years in the House of Delegates, began his service in 1962 as a conservative Democrat, but served as an independent from 1967 until his tenure ended in 2014. Putney said his views were more closely aligned with Republicans on social and fiscal issues. Beginning in the late 1990s, Putney caucused with the House GOP.