RICHMOND, Va. – It’s been nearly three decades since Virginia’s only woman to win a statewide race held political office.
That drought will end in November when voters decide whether Democratic Del. Hala Ayala or former Republican legislator Winsome Sears will be their next lieutenant governor. Either will make history as the first woman of color to serve statewide.
In interviews this week, after Ayala’s win in the Democratic primary Tuesday, both Democratic and Republican women expressed excitement about the race and frustration that it’s taken so long to get here.
“I’m thrilled we will be saying ‘Madam President’ come next year,” Republican state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant said, referring to how the staid chamber addresses the lieutenant governor who oversees it.
The lone female statewide officeholder in Virginia’s long history is Democrat Mary Sue Terry, who served as attorney general from 1986 to 1993.
“If a UFO came and stayed long enough to observe our situation, one gender has most of the power and the majority is second-class,” Terry said during a recent speech at a museum event, the Martinsville Bulletin reported. “There is something wrong with this picture.”
Barring some extraordinary turn of events, this year’s race will pit Ayala, a cybersecurity specialist who launched her political career in 2017 in response to the election of Donald Trump, against Sears, a Marine veteran who has made history as a woman in politics before. Each has cast the other as a radical or extremist.
Sears, who won the GOP nomination at a convention last month, got her start in elected office in 2001 when she stunned both parties by defeating a 10-term Democrat in an overwhelmingly blue district to become the first Black Republican woman elected to the House of Delegates.