Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears took up the gavel to preside over the Senate for the first time on Monday, Martin Luther King Day. Sears is the first Black woman to hold statewide office in Virginia. Senators spent the Monday session with Martin Luther King Day speeches and with ceremonial introductions, including of Attorney General Jason Miyares.
Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) introduced Sears: “It is wonderful to have Winsome Earle-Sears assume the gavel as the lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. For those of you who do not know Madam President, she is a Marine Corps veteran. She is from a family that came to America because of the great hope that America had to offer, much as our great new attorney general did. Winsome Earle-Sears is a business leader. She is as faith leader. She is a political leader in the Commonwealth of Virginia. She is a former member of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and we are delighted that faith, perseverance, and hard work has brought her down the hall into the higher body as the presiding officer of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) is chair of the Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior Memorial Commission. McClellan rose at the end of the session to give a speech, and following protocol, Sears gave McClellan the floor.
“Thank you Madam President, and I must admit it is a pleasure to be able to say that every day,” McClellan said. “Over the past year, we have heard many, including our newly inaugurated governor, quote Dr. King’s most famous line from his most famous speech, ‘I have a dream.'”
McClellan said that King’s speech wasn’t just about treating people the same regardless of race.
“It was about redressing over a century of inequity in our nation. It was about making the reality of our nation match the promise of its founding principles,” she said.
McClellan said that although improvements have been made since 1968, inequity still exists.
“We have made great strides. Madam President, you standing here before us today is proof of that. But we still have a long way to go to achieve the ideals on which this country was founded, for everybody,” she said.
Responding to McClellan, Senator Richard Stuart (R-King George) said, “As I came into the capitol today, I was excited because the election of Madam President, and the election of Jason Miyares, to me evidenced that the fight that Dr. King lost his life for, we were winning. As I listen to the senior senator from Richmond City, whom I have enormous respect for, I was somewhat let down by that.”
Stuart continued, “But I think we have to remember that what we see in this body today, and what we see from these elections this past November, evidences that all of the work that Dr. King fought so hard for is coming true, and there’s always more work to be done. And I think it’s time to look at this as a glass half full, rather than look at this as a glass half-empty.”
McQuinn said, “Within the past five years, we have seen a resurgence, a backlash to the gains made by African Americans, women, and other historically-marginalized groups. This has slowly brewed culminating in the election of Barack Obama, and especially the election of Donald Trump, sparking a reemergence of explicit white supremacists, as seen in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, and the January 6 insurrection. We saw it in the response to generational changes made in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, again surfacing a call to ban Critical Race Theory, a coordinated campaign to intimidate teachers, school board members, and prevent teachers from teaching a complete, accurate history of our nation, in other words, teaching the truth.”
Freshman Delegate A.C. Cordoza (R-Hampton) responded, “It is easier to cross our arms than to cross the aisle. It is easier to bury legislation before we build upon it, and it is easier to be partisan than it is to be a partner. Let us not limit or define our empathy according to a cinematic experience, but rather a willingness to embrace the experience of others.”
He added, “I will not quote Dr. King as many of us do, even though it’s applauded. A repetitive quote does not relinquish us from the responsibly he demonstrated. He is known for many speeches, but his impact rests in his public policy that he constructed in a bipartisan fashion that benefited all of us through structural reforms. We have the obligation and the opportunity to do better. That’s what Virginians deserve. Anything less is an insult to their vote and a blatant disregard of Dr. King as we reduce him to a symbol and a soundbite void of his substance and his public policy impact.”
Cordoza continued, “I said I would not quote Dr. King but I will quote his wife, because of our obligation and our opportunity to give Virginians a better commonwealth. We have one thing in the way, and whether personal or partisan, that thing would be our opinions. Corretta Scott King made it clear: ‘It does not matter how strong your opinions are if you do not use your power for positive change, you are indeed part of the problem.'”
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