On Tuesday, history will be made in the Commonwealth. Regardless of which candidate for lieutenant governor wins – Democrat Hala Ayala or Republican Winsome Sears – Virginia will elect a woman of color to the post for the first time. It will also mark the first time that any woman has ever held the position.
Virginia is among only 17 states in the country that elect a lieutenant governor separately from its governor, rather than running the lieutenant governor on the same ticket as the governor. Given how close the current race is between gubernatorial candidates Glenn Youngkin (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D), it’s feasible that there could be a split ticket – with either McAuliffe governing alongside Sears or Youngkin serving with Ayala.
Both women vying for the lieutenant governor role have impressive backgrounds.
Ayala, an Afro-Latina, is a native of Alexandria, Virginia. She served in the United States Coast Guard between 1999-2017 and previously worked for the U.S Department of Homeland Security. Ayala currently represents the 51st District in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Sears was born in Jamaica and is a U.S Marine Corps veteran. She represented Norfolk between 2002-2004 and was the first Black Republican woman to be elected to Virginia's House of Delegates. She also previously served as vice president of the Virginia Board of Education and was on the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
While the position of lieutenant governor is a part-time role in Virginia, it carries numerous important responsibilities. The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and casts tie-breaking votes when state senators are evenly split on the issues. Additionally, the lieutenant governor takes over in the event that the governor leaves office before the end of their term.
Ayala states on her website that she supports investing in workforce training to ensure Virginians have the skills necessary to succeed, regardless of their gender or the color of their skin.
She's calling for the minimum wage to be increased to $15 and wants to ramp up affordable housing initiatives.
Ayala is also pushing for a paid family and medical leave measure that would provide Virginian workers with 12 weeks of paid leave for childbirth or adoption.
Sears' economic policies focus on the creation of "good paying jobs for every Virginian," according to her website.
She supports keeping taxes low and promoting small businesses. In particular, Sears is pushing to eliminate the Virginia grocery tax - a policy strongly supported by Youngkin.
Sears is also calling for a 12-month suspension of the recent gas tax hike and is a proponent of providing a one-time tax rebate of $600 for joint filers and $300 for individuals.
Ayala believes in ramping up investments in Virginia's public schools and wants to increase pay for teachers across the Commonwealth.
She says she plans to work with the General Assembly to push for an expansion of Pre-K, more funding for school infrastructure and initiatives to help reduce classroom overcrowding.
Ayala also plans to back policies that would make college more affordable, and she believes more training programs should be made available to those who choose not to attend a four-year college.
Sears also expressed support for investing more in Virginia public schools and is pushing for higher pay for the state's teachers.
She’s calling for the recruitment of additional teachers to end the teacher shortage, and she wants to raise the standards for school accreditation.
Sears is also a strong proponent of school choice opportunities, particularly for students in poorly performing school districts.
Ayala has stressed the importance of creating an inclusive economy. She frequently discusses the fact that Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown Virginians and says more must be done to address those disparities.
She also says she has worked as a women's rights activist for nearly a decade and will fight for improvements in healthcare, particularly for women.
“I lost my dad to gun violence at a very young age,” Ayala said when discussing the economic challenges she's faced in her life. “We stood in food lines; health care was always uncertain. When I had my son, I was working for minimum wage; I didn’t know how I was going to provide.”
Ayala previously introduced a bill to address fetal and infant mortality rates throughout Virginia, with a focus on racial disparities. She also says she will prioritize protecting abortion rights for women.
Sears states on her website that she plans to "uplift Black Virginians" if elected to Lieutenant Governor.
She's backing a "once-in-a-generation" investment in Historically Black Colleges & Universities. She also wants to develop programs to promote Black entrepreneurship.
"Challenges help to bolster us even if the time of testing threatens to overwhelm us -- becoming lieutenant governor will not be any different," Sears said when asked about the challenges she has faced as a Black woman. "The glass ceiling has been shattered on many fronts, but we still have a long way to go."
Sears describes herself as pro-life, with exceptions for the life and health of the mother.
Ayala has called on all Virginians to get the vaccine and attacked Sears for failing to sufficiently promote vaccinations and refusing to openly discuss her vaccination status.
While it is not clear if Ayala supports a vaccine mandate, Terry McAuliffe generally does support a vaccine mandate. McAuliffe states on his website that he plans to immediately launch a campaign - "Virginia is for Vaccine Lovers" - in an effort to get "every eligible Virginian vaccinated."
Sears has argued that Covid-19 vaccine mandates are detrimental to medical privacy and could have problematic impacts on the Commonwealth's economy.
“If you want to get vaccinated, you do so — absolutely. Otherwise, you mask up; you keep your distance, you do everything in your power to keep yourself safe," she told WTOP News.
Sears later clarified on social media that she encourages everyone to get the vaccine but does not believe people should be forced to disclose their vaccination status.
Ayala's criminal justice policies are focused on ensuring accountability and transparency among law enforcement. She believes Virginia's justice system must be reformed and that more alternatives should be created to avert imprisonment.
Ayala also states on her website that she is currently pushing for "an aggressive legislative agenda" to address criminal justice reform, with an emphasis on banning no-knock warrants and mandating racial bias, de-escalation and crisis intervention training for police.
Sears says she believes in promoting public safety by cracking down on violent criminals and defending law enforcement heroes. She also supports criminal justice reforms that would carve out a "path to redemption" for nonviolent offenders, according to her website.
Sears also plans to push for higher pay for Virginia law enforcement officials and wants to reduce law enforcement interactions by increasing the use of handheld photo speed enforcement methods on Virginia's roads.
Ayala says one of her other top priorities is to address climate change issues in the Commonwealth. She stresses the need to consider the role of climate change in racial equity and argues that it is vital to address climate change immediately to avert environmental, public health and economic fallout.
Sears says another key priority of hers is to serve veterans. She wants to eliminate all taxes on the first $40,000 in military veteran retirement pay, expand veteran care centers throughout the Commonwealth and increase veterans' access to good-paying jobs.