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Hunkins: Winsome Sears in Wyoming

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Ray Hunkins

On Nov. 2, Republican Winsome Sears was elected Lt. Governor of Virginia in a major electoral upset, and in doing so became the first Black woman to win a state wide office in the Old Dominion state. She garnered a total of 1,658,746 votes, besting her Democrat opponent by 50,000. Ms. Sears has a connection to Wyoming.

It was the beginning of what promised to be a long day on the Thunderhead Ranch. I arose at 0400 and was making coffee and breakfast in the kitchen of our ranch home and (mostly) listening to Brian Lamb on C-Span’s Washington Journal, my favorite morning TV show in those days. It wasn’t far into my routine before I forgot breakfast and sat down to listen and watch Lamb’s fascinating interview with a newly elected representative to the Virginia House of Delegates, a young, articulate and conservative Black woman from Norfolk, Virginia.

I learned that Ms. Sears was elected to a majority Black legislative district in 2001, defeating a 20-year Democrat incumbent and becoming the first Black Republican elected to the Virginia legislature since 1865. I also learned that she was a Marine Corps veteran, married to a Marine, was a naturalized citizen who came with her impoverished family from Jamaica and that she was the mother of three daughters. Before entering politics, she had run a homeless shelter.

The interview revealed that this young lady was courageous, community oriented and displayed obvious strength of character. Those were characteristics with which I was familiar as chairman of a Wyoming foundation which had the mission of identifying and honoring those, who through their actions and accomplishments, exemplified such character traits — the character traits of Louisa Swain, the World’s first woman voter, who cast her ballot in 1870 in Laramie.

Several days later, after the cattle were gathered and as soon as I could get to a phone, I called the executive director and founder of the Louisa Swain Foundation, Weldon Tuck, and told him what I had seen and heard on C-Span and suggested the foundation should reach out to Ms. Sears and see if she would be interested in getting involved in the work of our foundation. Weldon did so and Winsome agreed.

Winsome Sears was elected to the foundation’s board and did yeoman’s service in that capacity for several years. During her term, she traveled to Wyoming and visited the Wyoming Legislature where she made remarks and was introduced by state treasurer and fellow Louisa Swain Board member, Cynthia Lummis, and Speaker of the Wyoming House Fred Parady. Ms. Sears was well received. She attended and was introduced at a reception for April Brimmer Kunz, then President of the Wyoming Senate, at the Plains Hotel, visiting with the many Wyoming legislators present.

Ms. Sears is expected to be inaugurated as Virginia’s 42nd lieutenant governor on Jan. 15, 2022. Like Louisa Swain, Winsome Sears will be a “first” in history. In Ms. Sears case, the first Black woman to hold a state wide office in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Like Louisa Swain, a devout Quaker, and also from Norfolk, politics is secondary to Winsome Sears’ work in her community. Ms. Sears says she is “most proud of my community work leading a men’s prison ministry and as director of a women’s homeless shelter for the Salvation Army.”

In remembering Ms. Sear’s visit to the Wyoming Legislature, Former Speaker of the House Fred Parady stated, “I will remember Delegate Sears’ evident pride in her role as a member of Virginia’s House, the oldest continuously operating legislative chamber – since 1619!”

Former State Treasurer and now Senator, Cynthia Lummis, offered: “I remember Winsome Sears’ visit to Wyoming well. She personified everything that the Louisa Swain Foundation was trying to honor and recognize within the mission of the Foundation’s Women’s History House and the Louisa Swain Award program. I am very proud that the voters of the Commonwealth of Virginia recognized the same qualities in Winsome Sears as did the Louisa Swain Foundation so many years ago. She represents the epitome of integrity, service, values and patriotism that we all hope will guide our elected officials.”

Winsome Sears may have been elected to high public office in Virginia, but she has friends and admirers in Wyoming who remember her good work in the Equality State.

Ray Hunkins is a retired attorney and rancher who was the Republican nominee for the office of Wyoming governor in 2006 and lives on the border part of the year. He can be reached at ray @rayhunkins.com.

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