by Scott Dreyer
On a late summer Thursday evening at the Vinton War Memorial Senior Center, the Roanoke County GOP met for a fundraiser barbecue dinner to support Sen. David Suetterlein’s fall campaign and to fire up the room full of party faithful.
Following the meal, several people on the ballot this fall introduced themselves and addressed some key issues facing the region and state.
But the Roanoke star that evening was Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears.
Speakers included Suetterlein; his wife Ashley who is the Roanoke County GOP Committee Chairwoman; Roanoke County Sheriff Eric Orange; Treasurer Kevin Hutchins; Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Holohan; Del. Joe McNamara; Betsy Head, wife of Del. Chris Head who is running for the State Senate; delegate candidate Chris Obenshain; and Supervisors Martha Hooker and Jason Peters.
Peters is challenging incumbent Nancy Horn (D), 78, for Commissioner of the Revenue. If successful, Peters will have defeated the last Democrat officeholder in Roanoke County. Moreover, if GOP-endorsed candidates maintain all their current seats, then all the county’s elected positions will be held by the GOP or their endorsed candidates.
(In contrast to Roanoke City, where six of the seven City Council members are Democrats, the county is increasingly Republican. For example, the county Democrat Committee failed to field a candidate for most of the positions on this fall’s ballot, thus forfeiting those seats to the GOP.)
The evening’s keynote speaker was Earle-Sears, who made history with her 2021 win as the first black woman and first-generation immigrant to hold that office. One key responsibility of the lieutenant governor is to break ties in the 40-member Virginia Senate.
In what has been called “The Great Sort,” many people in recent years have been moving to states that suit their political and cultural leanings. Thus, “blue” states like California and Illinois have skewed more Democrat while “red” states like South Carolina and Tennessee have become more Republican.
Against that backdrop, Virginia is unusual in that we are one of the few states left that is closely divided politically, with both parties roughly equal in strength. Thus, vote margins in the thousands or even hundreds or fewer in close races can potentially have huge impacts.
Earle-Sears opened her wide-ranging remarks by telling the crowd how important it is to win in the upcoming fall elections, and she ticked off some major wins Virginia has enjoyed since a Republican administration has led the Old Dominion for the first time in twelve years.
The lieutenant governor celebrated Lego’s decision to place their only facility in North America in Virginia. Boeing recently fled crime-ridden Chicago for Northern Virginia. Earle-Sears tongue-in-cheek thanked Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for her attacks on a planned Amazon facility in New York City that caused the online giant to instead build a new campus in Virginia.
Earle-Sears then addressed the huge budget surplus the State of Virginia currently has. She explained that Republicans want to offer refunds and cut taxes but the Senate Democrats have been blocking that “because they don’t want to give the governor a ‘win,’ so they fight us.”
Discussing Virginia’s recent exit from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and current Virginia law to force Old Dominion car buyers to buy electric vehicles in future years, (issues addressed here and here), she said Virginians should write their own laws.
She elaborated: “By 2025, 30% of all cars sold in Virginia have to be electric vehicles. And if they’re not? There’s a $20,000 penalty per gas-powered vehicle sold. Then, by 2035, 100% of cars sold in Virginia are supposed to be electric vehicles.”
Voicing incredulity, Earle-Sears stated, “California gets to decide how we run our economy? Did you vote for anyone in California?”
She reminded the crowd of her own immigrant story, of how she came to the U.S. as a young girl with her mom and dad from Jamaica, and how her family started living here in America with only a few dollars in her father’s pocket. Dispelling skepticism and despair, she told how “some immigrants come to our border and throw their baby over the wall. They do that because they believe in America, so we should too.”
Addressing the nuts and bolts of the fall elections, Earle-Sears explained that the State Senate has 40 seats, with the Democrats currently enjoying a 22-18 lead.
As explained in this column, she expressed outrage at the unfairness of grossly lopsided powerful Senate committees. For example, the Commerce and Labor Committee is 12 D/3 R. The Finance and Appropriations Committee that handles taxes and money is 10 D/5 R. The Rules Committee that pulls all the strings is stacked 13 D/4 R.
Explaining how all 40 seats will be up for grabs this November, she claimed “15 seats will absolutely go for the GOP.” She added there are two districts that lean GOP and two swing seats with a slight Republican edge, “so that makes 19. Add one more and we’ve got 20,” and that gives the GOP 21 since the lieutenant governor can break ties.
Referring to the crucial number of 20, she promised, “We’re going to get to that, and everything after that is gravy.”
On the hot topic of parental rights and educational reform, where the Roanoke County School Board has made headlines defending the rule of law and democratic norms, Earle-Sears stated, “Parents have said ‘we want school choice, and we want it now.’” Moreover, she added, “the biggest growth in homeschooling has been among blacks.”
Earle-Sears closed her remarks with, “You’re in politics. All of y’all are in politics too, because Lincoln wrote about government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
County resident Bruce Boteler had this to say after the event: “I thought the lieutenant governor gave an excellent speech.… She was very excited, passionate, and I think she is making a good term as a lieutenant governor and personally think she could be a future governor of the State of Virginia.”
In-person early voting in Virginia begins on Friday, September 22; the last day to vote is November 7.
Republished with permission from The Roanoke Star.