Winsome Sears made history ready for action in Virginia
Fall Church, Virginia. Winsome Sears says voters learned where she stands as she made history on her campaign trail to become the first black woman elected to statewide office in Virginia.
But Sears may be less well known for her political stance than her campaign photo of the 57-year-old ex-Marine with a military rifle. The photo shot Republicans out of political obscurity after nearly 20 years of missing an elected office to win the Republican nomination for vice governor, and completed its comeback in November when Republicans swept the top positions in Virginia.
Those who know her say Sears is more than an armed cartoon—they point to her willingness to beat her party at times, her dedication to school choice and other conservative education priorities. The picture grabbed attention, but carried it in a catchy, semi-flowing modern style, drawing crowds for fellow ticket runner Glenn Yongkin, now governor-elect.
She had one liner ready for the press, too. When asked about her pro-gun stance after the votes were counted, she told a local TV station, “Harriet Tubman carried a gun and if it worked for her, it’s good for me too.”
Having won 51% to 49% over the Democratic state of Del Hala Ayala, who would also go down in history as a black Hispanic, Sears is ready to switch again, from giving speech to ruling.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Sears said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And that’s why I couldn’t wait to get to the end. So I can really show people I mean to do it right. That I don’t just use flowery language.”
The word that best describes Sears is “original,” according to Chris Brunlich, who served with her on the Virginia Board of Education a decade ago. He said she had little tolerance for local school principals who made excuses for their students’ poor performance.
“When you tell me I’m a victim…how? Tell me how,” she said in one of her campaign speeches in which she emphasized, as she often does, the progress made over decades in American race relations. “Everything I had, I had to work for it. Everything.”
Sears embraced President Donald Trump, serving as co-chair of a group called Black Americans to re-elect President Trump, and defended him against accusations of racism. However, she took action when she believed Republicans were falling short on racial issues.
In 2018, she launched a writing campaign for the US Senate when Corey Stewart, whose campaign was associated with white supremacists and used the Confederate flag as prop, won the Republican nomination.
“The Republican Party has never saluted the Confederate flag, hasn’t fought under the Confederate flag…is our candidate, our candidate?” she said at the time. It does not represent Lincoln’s party. …he’s not a true Republican.”
When she is sworn in in January, she will be the first woman in the position, which is considered part-time but is often a stepping stone for future rulers. Five of the ten lieutenants of the governor of Virginia went on to serve as governor.
Former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder, the first African-American elected governor, said Sears had an independent streak that served her well.
“She’s experienced, and she’s shown she’s someone willing to listen, willing to learn,” said Wilder, a Democrat who met with Sears during the campaign and agreed to serve on the Yongkin transition team.
Wilder, now a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, was also a lieutenant governor. He found this position a surprisingly powerful platform to push an agenda, as it provides many opportunities to speak in front of influential audiences.
“You can identify your problems,” he said.
Presiding over the Senate is one of the deputy governor’s primary duties, but the job can be more than ceremonial for Sears because not only have Republicans won the governor’s mansion, they have also regained a majority in the House of Delegates.
That leaves the 21- to 19-year-old Senate as the Democrats’ last bastion of power, with Sears poised to cast a disproportionate vote whenever one Democrat can be drawn to the Republican side.
Democrats are particularly concerned about her strong anti-abortion record. Ayala has repeatedly warned voters that the Senate is essentially divided between 20 and 20 on the issue, as Democratic Senator Joe Morrissey voted against some legislation to expand abortion rights.
Sears said voters heard the word because Ayala doubled down on her fundraising and turned it down.
She said voters “concerned about the bread and butter issues facing them.” Sears indicated that it would allow abortion in cases of rape or incest and save the life or health of a pregnant woman. When asked if she would like any changes to an abortion in Virginia, she was noncommittal, saying only, “Let me see it.”
Sears represented Hampton Roads in the legislature for one term two decades ago, sponsoring anti-KKK-style cross-arson legislation and squabbling with the black legislature, as the only republic.
While absent from electoral politics, she was appointed to the Veterans Administration, Census Bureau, and State School Board and ran a plumbing and electrical company in the Winchester area. She said she moved there to provide a better environment for one of her daughters, Dijon Williams, who had mental health issues. Williams and her two daughters were killed in a car accident in 2012 after eyewitnesses reported that she was traveling at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour.
“I remember that God gave us the ability to grieve, he cried for us for a reason,” she told The Winchester Star in 2012.
Sears speaks frequently about her faith, writing a book called “Stop Being a Christian Coward!” Long before she returned to politics. She also led a Bible study in prison.
Vinson Palatingale, a Fairfax County GOP activist and early supporter, said the party should have promoted her more prominently.
“Tent expansion is something I’m working on, and that’s exactly what Winsome is talking about,” he said while handing out samples of ballot papers.
Sears argues that low taxes, school choice, and opposition to abortion have more appeal among minorities than conventional political wisdom would allow.
“We’re going to need new voters if we’re going to win,” she said on a GOP podcast earlier this year. “Do you know where we’re going to get them from? The only place: the Democrats. They’re in the Democratic Party, they’re conservatives, and they don’t even know it.”
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