The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

With Trump-style bravado, suburban state senator alienates her own party

State Sen. Amanda F. Chase (R-Chesterfield) wears a sidearm during a committee hearing in January at the Capitol in Richmond.
State Sen. Amanda F. Chase (R-Chesterfield) wears a sidearm during a committee hearing in January at the Capitol in Richmond. (Bob Brown/Associated Press)
Placeholder while article actions load

RICHMOND — Virginia state Sen. Amanda F. Chase strapped a .38 Special to her hip and swaggered through her first term in “Mr. Jefferson’s” Capitol like she owned the joint. The Chesterfield County Republican cussed out a cop over a parking spot, called the Senate clerk “Miss Piggy” and said rape victims are “naive and unprepared.”

Chase was swashbucklingly on brand again recently at the staid Country Club of Virginia, where she staged a fundraiser with Joy Villa, a performer who went to the Grammys this year in a gown resembling President Trump’s border wall, accessorized with metal spikes and barbed wire.

“I love ballsy women,” gushed antiabortion activist Leslie Davis Blackwell, as Chase and Villa posed for pictures and declared themselves kindred disrupters.

On the Senate floor with a gun on her hip, Republican says packing heat can deter violence

In a state where Trump’s approval rating is in the basement, Chase is the rare suburban Republican who is embracing the president as she seeks a second term in a pivotal election this November.

Singer Joy Villa endorsed Virginia State Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) on Sept. 16. Chase has embraced President Trump and faced a string of controversies. (Video: Laura Vozzella/The Washington Post)

All 140 seats in the state legislature will be on the ballot and Republicans are defending razor-thin majorities: the GOP has a 51-48 edge in the House and a 20-19 advantage in the Senate, with one vacancy in each chamber. If Democrats flip both chambers, they would have full control of state government for the first time in a generation.

Democrats are banking on ­anti-Trump sentiment to help them in suburban districts. Many Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to avoid talking about the president or divisive issues such as guns and abortion.

Not Chase.

“I won’t be quiet. I won’t be silenced,” she declared to about 40 donors at the country club. “I’m going to continue to boldly represent our family values and those values which make Virginia, Virginia. We are not California. We are not New York. And we will not be, as long as I’m serving in the General Assembly.”

Chase rails against the push by congressional Democrats toward impeachment, calling it “just another failed and desperate attempt to take Trump out of office.”

Virginia’s ‘off-off-year’ elections were once sleepy. And then came Trump.

The 49-year-old freshman lawmaker says Democrats and ­RINOs — Republicans in name only — are aligned against her because she is a conservative truth-teller.

The fracas with the Capitol Police officer over the parking spot was a “trap,” she said. The police report saying she called the Senate clerk Miss Piggy, a partisan hit. The Facebook ad that had her vowing to “shoot down” anti-gun groups, bungled by her ad agency or perhaps altered by a Democratic saboteur.

Va. senator says she never approved ad vowing to ‘shoot down’ anti-gun groups

At a time when the GOP can’t afford to lose a single seat, some Senate Republicans fret that the drama swirling around “Senator Annie Oakley Chase,” as some call her, threatens to put her reliably red district in play.

“What she does, we all pay a price for,” said one frustrated GOP senator who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard, a Republican who withdrew his support this spring because Chase would not apologize to the police officer, has been in the senator’s sights ever since. She threatened to hurt his fundraising — “I’ll let my Republican donors know,” she texted — and has been campaigning with his challenger, an independent. On Friday, she accused Leonard of making Chesterfield a “sanctuary city.” That was news to the sheriff, who last year backed Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), an immigration hard-liner.

On Monday, the Chesterfield County GOP ousted Chase for attacking Leonard and promoting the independent challenging him.

“It’s a train wreck in slow motion,” Leonard said. “There’s so many people trying to get her back on the tracks, but she just doesn’t listen.”

Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), who saddled Chase with the Annie Oakley nickname, said she also reminds him of the president.

“She’s a replica of Trump,” Saslaw said. “His conduct is bizarre, and so is hers.”

Chase supporters compare her to Trump, too, but favorably.

They like her bravado, even if they wince at times. Conservative radio host John Fredericks said that Chase “owes everybody an apology” over the confrontation with police but that he still admires her willingness to speak frankly on tough issues.

“She has chutzpah,” said Fredericks, chairman of Trump’s 2016 Virginia campaign. “Agree with her or not, she is who she is.”

During a special legislative session in July, a gun-control group wielding a video camera put Republicans on the spot as they passed through the Capitol’s marble hallways. As the video crew lobbed questions about expanding background checks, a pair of suburban Republicans scattered. Chase didn’t run; she said flatly that she wouldn’t support anything that infringes on gun rights.

Gun debate ends abruptly in Virginia as GOP-controlled legislature adjourns

At the country club fundraiser, the singer who struts red carpets in liberal Los Angeles wearing Trump-tribute gowns felt a kinship with the outspoken senator.

“We’re like sisters at this point,” Villa said. “I mean, this woman is so fearless. . . . There’s not a lot of people out there who have the guts to do and say what she does and says.”

That’s not without risk, even in a district where Trump took 53 percent of the vote while losing Virginia overall by six points. Chase’s Democratic challenger — another Amanda, Amanda Pohl — has used some of Chase’s headlines to raise money.

After the El Paso mass shooting in August, Chase put out a video calling for an end to “gun-free zones that are creating safe havens for criminals who don’t follow the law.”

Pohl, a social worker and former hospital chaplain who favors expanded background checks, promoted the video, too — calling Chase’s response “outrageous and dangerous. She is out of touch with our district and with reality.”

Pohl has outraised Chase so far this year, $252,000 to $189,000, and had more cash on hand heading into September.

Threats and theatrics

Emotions were high last year as a handful of Senate Republicans were about to break ranks and vote to expand Medicaid — something the GOP had fiercely opposed for years. House Republicans had done an about-face after an anti-Trump wave in 2017 all but wiped out their 2-to-1 majority. Now Senate Republicans were crumbling.

In a closed caucus meeting ahead of the vote, Chase warned the four defectors that she would see to it that they all got primary challengers, according to wit­nesses.

Then she stormed out of the meeting room in the historic Capitol, grabbing the doorknob with such force that it went airborne, barely missing a senator seated nearby.

“What can I say? I’m just a politically incorrect redneck from Chesterfield that is tired of all the BS going on in Richmond,” she wrote in a text message confirming the event. “I’m a strong voice for the people back home who sent me to the GA to clean things up. I truly believe my constituents back home would have cheered me on had they been there. My district has had enough of politicians who promise one thing and break their promises when the pressure is on.”

Chase ended that message with a smiley face. Despite her hard-charging ways, she’s often upbeat.

Yet for all her bravado and breezy air, Chase often expresses fear for her physical safety. She said she has received death threats because of her outspokenness. She has hired a bodyguard who doubles as her campaign manager.

Chase’s remark about rape came in a Facebook exchange with someone who suggested that the senator was “paranoid” for carrying a gun when she goes jogging on secluded park trails.

“it’s those who are naive and unprepared that end [up] raped,” she wrote. “Sorry. But I’m not going to be a statistic.”

She said she started wearing the gun on her hip after immigration activists confronted her and another senator about a bill to ban sanctuary cities. She said she had Capitol Police drive her short distances — using officers like a ride-hailing service, critics said — because she was worried about walking alone.

She prefers to park in a secured pedestrian plaza right outside her office on Capitol Square, saying that’s safer than her assigned garage a block away. That’s what she told Officer Ashley Berryman in March, when she rolled up to the plaza gate in her white Lexus. Berryman told Chase she was not allowed to park there without special permission.

“I suggested that she park in her assigned deck,” Berryman wrote later in an incident report first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “She stated that she will not park in the deck because she is in fear of her life, and that there is no guard there and that she had been receiving threats. . . . She stated‘I’m not going to move unless you let the [expletive] barricades down to let me in.’ ”

School buses trying to drop off children for a field trip were stuck behind Chase while the episode played out. Fuming over the Senate clerk’s prime parking spot, the report said, Chase referred to the clerk as Miss Piggy.

“Do you know who I am?” she demanded, according to Berryman.

Supporters of Chase’s Democratic opponent seized on that line, plastering it on T-shirts: “ ‘Do you know who I am?’ — Senator Amanda Chase. Yes, and that’s why I’m voting for Amanda Pohl.”

In a letter to Capitol Police, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) apologized on behalf of the Republican caucus, saying its members “share your exasperation.”

There was no apology from Chase, who wrote on Facebook that the officer’s report looked like it had been penned by “a democrat operative.”

She initially denied using profanity, but later told WRVA’s John Reid: “I did drop the f-bomb, but it was not directed at her [the officer]. It was at the gate.” She told The Washington Post that she has “no recollection” of calling the clerk Miss Piggy.

When Chase first dipped her toe into politics years ago, she aimed only to disrupt a suburban road project. Chesterfield County wanted to extend a dead-end street near the neighborhood pool where Chase, a home-schooling mother of four, was swim team coach.

“I was concerned about the safety and well-being of the kids on my swim team because I had probably 150 to 200 of them that would ride their bikes to the pool,” said Chase, who owns a small financial services firm. She rallied team parents and persuaded the county to scrap the project.

“From then on I just started volunteering on different campaigns,” Chase said. “I just got to be known as the grass-roots girl from Chesterfield and everybody would call me.” The volunteer stints turned into paid work for then-Rep. Eric Cantor (R) and later, the outsider who toppled him, Brat.

Chase got into the ring herself four years ago, as a tea party upstart challenging state Sen. Steve Martin for the GOP nomination. He’d been in the legislature 28 years and Chase said it was time for a change. She beat him, despite being outspent $630,000 to $76,000.

On the campaign trail today, Chase talks about how she bucked both parties to pull off two of her biggest wins: a coal ash cleanup law and a deal that greatly boosted public access to legislative business. She accomplished the latter by teaming up with a liberal Democrat, Del. Mark H. Levine (Alexandria), to form the Transparency Caucus. They successfully pushed to get committee meetings — where most of the work of the legislature gets done — live-streamed and archived.

“Amanda Chase, to her credit, is an independent person,” said Levine, who supports Pohl in the race. “Sometimes we don’t have that many independent voices. I’m sure that causes the Republican leadership some heartburn.”

Local newsletters: Local headlines (8 a.m.) | Afternoon Buzz (4 p.m.)

Like PostLocal on Facebook | Follow @postlocal on Twitter | Latest local news