RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – History will be made Saturday when Lt. Gov-elect Winsome Sears (R) takes the oath for Virginia’s second-highest office. Sears will be the first woman and woman of color as Virginia’s 42nd Lt. Governor.
When Winsome Sears is sworn into office at the Virginia State Capitol Saturday, it will be the latest glass ceiling she has shattered. Twenty years ago, she became the first Black Republican woman to be elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Sears represented the 90th district for one term. In 2004, she ran for a congressional district seat, but lost.
Days before Inauguration Day, NBC12 sat down with the former delegate and marine veteran to talk about the significance of her historic win. On the night of the election, she told a crowd of supporters, “I didn’t run to make history, I ran to leave it better than I found it.”
“It doesn’t mean all of those things to me, I just see me as me,” said Sears as she sat comfortably in a wooden chair inside an empty senate room. “It’s probably a good thing because then I might get the big head.”
A big advocate for education, Sears attributes much of her preparation as a successful business owner and public servant to that.
“I want people to understand that I didn’t do anything special to become Lt. Gov. of Virginia; all I did was stay in school and study,” said Sears, a former vice president of the Virginia State Board of Education “Prepare, prepare, prepare, that’s all I did because I want the little girls and boys to know that if I can do it.”
Born in Jamaica, Sears immigrated to the U.S. as a little girl who quickly saw education as a gateway to opportunity. She said her father arrived with just $1.75 to this country during the height of the civil rights movement . Today, he is retired and living comfortably.
“As his mother, my grandmother, used to tell me nothing beats a try but failure, but if you failed it means you’ve tried,” said Sears, as she reflected on the advice her father and grandmother gave her growing up.
While Sears is making history as the first woman and woman of color to serve in her new role, she does not let race impact her political views. Instead, she chooses to focus on examples of progress that African Americans have made.
“Here’s the thing, as Black people , we’re overcomers , we’ve overcome slavery, we’ve overcome racism, we’ve overcome redlining, we’ve overcome segregation,” Sears said. “We want to keep looking at the past? There’s nothing back there except to say yes, we’ve been there, we’ve overcome, we’re going to keep on, we’re resilient people.”
The start of her political comeback drew attention from both sides when the second amendment advocate posed with a rifle in her campaign photo. The marine veteran and business owner ran on promises to support policies that include tax cuts, an increase in teacher pay and funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
“When our children go to HBCUs, it’s a welcoming environment, you know, they’re more comfortable and it works,” Sears said. “They graduate at a much higher rate from those institutions than they do in others.”
“Let’s not kill the things that make us better,” she continued. “So, we need to fully fund them.”
When it comes to vaccine mandates in response to the pandemic, Sears believes the choice is up to Virginians.
“Get the vaccine,” Sears said. “If you’re not going to get the vaccine, then you know, put a mask on, keep yourselves protected, keep your families safe.”
Sears is not in favor of Virginians showing proof of vaccination.
“I shouldn’t have to show my medical records to a waiter, it’s like no, we’re not doing this,” Sears said.
Another hotly contested issue: abortion.
“I thank God that my mother gave me life and I think the baby in the womb wants to live‚” said a tearful Sears. ”But, we have to ensure that the life and the health of the mother is considered, you know,” Sears elaborated. ”Yea, we want to make sure of that .”
“There’s also the issue about rape and incest,” she said.
As president of the state senate, Sears will hold the power to cast the tie-breaking vote on legislation that could impact the future of Virginia. Outgoing Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has cast more than 50 tie-breaking votes since 2018.
“I’m not anxious, I just need to get going because it’s a job and there are some things that need to get done,” Sears said.
This week, Sears spent time at Holly Knoll, a historic house in rural Glouster County where its believed Martin Luther King Jr. penned some of his I have a Dream speech. Sears said she did not get to this point alone. Black leaders joined her to celebrate and honor the ancestors ahead of her historic accomplishment.
”All along the way, people have lived , they have died, they have fought for people who look like me to get to where I am today, ” Sears said. ”We have to make sure that we progress, that we don’t let things stand in our way, so we’re going to honor some of those people.”
Sears takes office Saturday, Jan.15.
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