Staunch Trump supporter, Jamaican-born woman wins historic Virginia Lt governor election
Combo pic showing Winsome Sears and family (left) and Winsome Sears celebrates her lieutenant governor win Monday night (right)

Not shy about invoking her Jamaican heritage, Republican Winsome Earle Sears is the unlikely lieutenant governor-designate of Virginia after defeating her Democratic opponent Hala S Ayala in last Monday's hard-fought elections.

Sears, 54, who emigrated to the United States with her parents at age six, won 51 per cent of the votes in the elections to her opponent's 48 per cent, doing what no other black person or woman has done in 233 years of Virginian history.

As a trailblazer, she was the first black Republican woman elected to the Virginia House in 2002, becoming the first naturalised US citizen and first female veteran to serve in the State House, and is now the first woman of colour to be elected to a statewide office in Virginia, wresting the post of lieutenant governor from Democratic hold.

The lieutenant governor is seen as a shoo-in for the prize of Virginia governor, if and when the position becomes vacant. Seven of the state's last 14 governors previously served as lieutenant governor.

The official duties of Virginia's lieutenant governor include presiding over the Virginia Senate and to succeed the governor if he/she were to leave office before the term is up. The lieutenant governor also casts tie-breaking votes if senators are split on a measure.

“From the time my family arrived in America from Jamaica we have realised and appreciated the opportunity that the US provided us,” said an exultant Winsome Sears after beating out five other primary contestants for her party's nod to run for lieutenant governor of Virginia in May this year.

“However, we never could have imagined that would include the possibility of being the second in command of the home of the American and world's longest-standing democracy,” Sears rejoiced in a statement following the announcement of her victory.

What made Sears' win unlikely was the fact that Virginia has been “blue”, meaning solidly Democratic since 2009. President Joe Biden won the state by a margin of 10 per cent, and she is a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, for whom she campaigned hard in last year's presidential elections.

Sears faced pushback, especially from Democratic-leaning compatriots, for her support of Trump in the high-profile position as national chairman of black Republicans for re-election of Trump.

During the nomination campaign she criticised the Democrats who run state government for restrictions on churches and “mom and pop” businesses during COVID-19, describing herself as “unapologetically pro-life”.

She also called herself an “ardent supporter” of Second Amendment rights and a backer of school choice, including vouchers, which she said would give families in low-income neighbourhoods more opportunity.

As a Republican, she advocates for gun ownership, saying it deters crimes, not gun-control laws, according to her campaign website.

A photo on her Facebook page showed Sears carrying an assault-style rifle. The wording with the photo read: “Battle tested conservative. Semper Fi”, which is short for Semper fidelis, a Latin phrase used as the motto of the United States Marine Corps meaning “always faithful” or “always loyal”.

In her campaign, she advocates “ballot box integrity”, saying that she wanted to bar third parties from turning in ballots for others and wants Virginia to go back to requiring a photo ID at the polls, legislative action echoing Trump.

Democrats quickly sought to label Sears as extreme, with Ayala, a black Latina charging: “It's no surprise that Republican insiders nominated a right-wing extremist like Winsome Sears.

“The Republican Party of Virginia is out of touch with the needs of regular Virginians, and they continue to elevate conspiracy theorists and Trump extremists like Winsome Sears,” she accused.

A former marine pilot and owner and operator of a plumbing, electrical and appliance repair business, Sears, 58, emigrated from Jamaica at six and grew up in the Bronx, New York. She was featured in the Jamaica Observer's April 26, 2021 edition in its Jamaica in the World feature.

That was shortly after throwing her hat in the ring for what was shaping up to be a tough challenge from one of the seven Democrats and six Republicans seeking their party's nomination.

Sears, who majored in English and minored in economics at Old Dominion University, and represents Norfolk in the House of Delegates, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2004, afterwards appearing to end her political career.

When she re-emerged this year to run for the position of lieutenant governor, the Associated Press said Sears was seeking “an achievement that is exceedingly rare, if not unprecedented, in modern Virginia politics — a return to elective office after an absence of 17 years.

But Sears was undaunted.

Winsome Sears, trailblazer
Winsome Searsbearing an assaultstylerifle on thecampaign trail.
By Desmond Allen Executive editor – special assignment allend@jamaicaobserver.com

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