PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia’s political power for the three state-wide offices transfers from Democrats to Republicans, as does control of the House of Delegates, this month.
Former Del. Winsome Sears made history in November by becoming the first woman elected as Virginia’s 42nd lieutenant governor.
On Wednesday, Sears sat down with 10 On Your Side one-on-one. She told us she always thought she would win, but there were many skeptics out there. Sears has often been underestimated, she said.
She won a stunning upset in 2001, defeating 20-year Democratic Norfolk Del. Billy Robinson. In 2004, Sears unsuccessfully ran against Congressman Bobby Scott in the heavily Democratic 3rd District.
Many people in Virginia were introduced to Winsome Sears through a campaign picture of her holding an AR-15.
“That picture does a few things; it shows women as powerful. I’m familiar with this gun. I’m a Marine. I had to train with this AR-15, and they shoved it in my face and told me it was my best friend,” she said.
On election night, Sears became the first Black woman elected to a statewide position.
“It was a historic night, but I did not run to make history. I just wanted to leave it better than I found it,” she said.
She was once described as a Marine veteran, former unwed mother who married and became an evangelical Christian.
With a slight laugh, she responded, “So, everybody has a history, but we have a saying in church. ‘I may not be what I’m supposed to be, but I ain’t what I used to be.’”
Sears is deeply religious, and her agenda revolves around unity.
“We are seeing too much fighting, Black against white, Asian against Latino. For some people that is fine, but we just want to be left alone,” she said.
Her second priority is education.
“I got into this race because our children are not learning, and I wanted them to have the opportunity because I have seen too much of what happens when kids don’t have a good education,” she said.
We met with Sears in a back room of the Virginia Senate where she will be the presiding officer.
She replaces Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, and respects him.
He keeps saying, “I thank the senator, he is gracious.”
We found Sears in orientation, practicing getting ready to lead the Senate, but says she will not be tied to her Senate duties.
“You got to get out of the cocoon of Richmond and be among the people. You got to be with the people, and that is what I did to get elected and I’m going to keep doing that,” she said.
She wouldn’t speculate on any plans to eventually become the first female governor of Virginia.
“I’m ready to go to Richmond and to do the job the people have elected me to do,” she said.
She said in November 2001 after defeating long-time Norfolk Del. Billy Robinson, who had served 20 years in the General Assembly.
20 years later almost to that day she won the bigger prize, lieutenant governor. On election night she told the cheering crowd “Hold on Virginia. Help is on the way. The cavalry has arrived.”
Sears compares herself to a gentle agitator.
“Congressman John Lewis said there is good trouble. I think we like to get into good trouble. What is good trouble, what will help the people,” she said.
She offers herself an example Virginia is full of equal opportunity.
“I’m equal opportunity. If the door of opportunity doesn’t open build a new door or how about we bust it down?” she said.
We asked her why she thinks Republicans were so successful this election cycle.
“We had unity. That’s what they wanted. The people wanted unity, and no one cared if I was a black female immigrant, they didn’t care they just wanted us to get along,” she said.
She immigrated to the United States from her home in Kingston, Jamaica at age 6. It is believed that she is the first statewide elected immigrant in Virginia.
We met with her in the Hall of Presidents in the Capitol Rotunda, which features busts of all the Virginia-born U.S. presidents. We noted to her all the busts are of white men.
“Well, I know that we have to acknowledge the history of it because it is significant, and I am also the first woman of any race to be lieutenant governor, but I think more than that it just tells people you can be here too. I did not do anything special to get here except stay in school, and study, and education is the great equalizer, and that is why the slave masters did not want the slaves to read,” she said.