Dogged Dem: Why Sisson wants to hang up Hanger

When Steve Sisson is passionate about a cause, he'll shed blood for it– or at least give up a little DNA, as he did when he wanted to find whether Sissons around the country were all descended from the same 17th-century forebear.

Sisson is throwing the same enthusiasm he has for genealogy into his race for state senator in the 24th District against incumbent Emmett Hanger.

And he's not discouraged that he's a Democrat in a heavily Republican district stretching from Greene to parts of Highland County, taking in the Crozet, Free Union, and Brownsville precincts in Albemarle County.

"I think my values represent the district," says the Elkton resident. "I can speak to the issues of the farmer, and I can speak to the issues of a small business owner." Sisson lives on a family farm that was deeded to his wife's family in 1732 by colonial Virginia governor William Gooch, and he used to have a business as a graphic designer before going to work at the Coors Brewing Company.

"If I'm elected, I'll be the only state senator who works in a manufacturing plant," he adds.

The afternoon Sisson meets with The Hook at the Blue Ridge Café in Ruckersville, he's looking forward to his first evening off all week. "I'm kind of tired," he says. "I've done four candidate forums this week. I'm so tired of candidate forums."

But not tired enough to not talk about the race and why he wants Hanger's job.

He cites the average salary in Rockingham County– $17,000– and compares it to the average salary of $24,000 in the United States. "That's the poverty level in the U.S. Most of those people live paycheck to paycheck with no health care. I live in Rockingham County, and I don't see the quality of life getting better."

Since he decided to run, he estimates he's knocked on about 4,500 doors: "I've worn out three pairs of shoes the past six months." And after going door to door in Highland County, "I had shin splints," he says.

Even that doesn't diminish his enthusiasm– or his optimism. "I wasn't prepared for the emotional highs and lows of running for office, when total strangers say they'll support you and give you money, and people you think will support you don't," he says. At last count, he'd raised $36,000, almost on par with the incumbent's $38,000.

It seems pretty safe to say Sisson has been bitten by the political bug. For example, when asked what his favorite beer is, he responds, "Well, I guess it has to be Coors." Spoken like a true politician.

He remains the feisty underdog as the election passes into the home stretch. "American history is full of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things," he says before he heads back toward Elkton and his first evening home all week.

Age: 46

What do you like best about Charlottesville? The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at UVA

What do you like least about Charlottesville? Traffic on Route 29

Favorite hangout? Library

Most overrated virtue? Political loyalty

What would people be surprised to know about you? I served as chairman of the Rockingham County Reform and Democratic parties during 1990s.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Lose 20 pounds

What accomplishment are you proudest of? Researched my Sisson family history back to 1653 in Lancaster County

What do people find most annoying about you? I talk about politics too much.

Whom do you admire? Political activist Saul Alinsky

Favorite book? To Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John Brown, by Warren and Stephen B. Oates

What subject causes you to rant? Senator Emmett Hanger's vote against the 2001 General Assembly resolution [in committee] expressing regret for the eugenics movement and for the Racial Integrity Act. [Hanger voted for it in the Senate.]

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? The opportunity for success

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? A society based on fear

What do you drive? Ford Ranger

What's in your car CD or tape player right now? The Very Best of Todd Rundgren

 What's your next journey? Virginia genealogy certification

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? [Being] stationed onboard the USS Saratoga as a military photographer, 10 miles off the coast of Beirut for 40 days during the outbreak of the 1976 Lebanese civil war

What do you regret? Not eating dessert first

Favorite comfort food? Homemade chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven

What's always in your refrigerator? Milk

Must-see TV? University of Maryland basketball games (Go Terps!)

Favorite cartoon? The Adventures of Johnny Quest

Describe a perfect day. A picnic at Big Meadows on a crisp fall day

Walter Mitty fantasy? Sit in with the Dave Matthews Band

Who'd play you in the movie? Sam Shepard

Most embarrassing moment? I introduced the wrong speaker at an event.

Best advice you ever got? Never let your opposition pin a label on you.

Favorite bumper sticker? Can't see the trees for the Bushes

Steve Sisson