- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

RICHMOND Delegate Winsome Earle Sears, the only black Republican in the General Assembly, said she quit the Legislative Black Caucus yesterday because it has become too political.
"We just don't see eye-to-eye," Mrs. Sears, a freshman lawmaker from Norfolk, told The Washington Times before announcing her decision to the caucus. "I am not going to support someone just because they are black."
Caucus members stayed locked in executive session long after Mrs. Sears made her announcement in the late afternoon and were unavailable for comment.
"They all jumped down my throat," Mrs. Sears said after making the announcement.
Her departure is the most recent action among Virginia lawmakers since a decision by Senate and House Courts of Justice committees not to reappoint Judge Verbena Askew to the Circuit Court in Norfolk.
Last week, Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, said he would not seek a leadership post in the next General Assembly session, in part because of the Askew matter.
During Judge Askew's renomination process, it was revealed that the city of Hampton had settled a sexual-harassment accusation against the black judge by paying the female accuser $64,000. Questions also arose about Judge Askew's sexual orientation.
Other black lawmakers have said the reappointment process was unfair and racially motivated.
State Sen. Louise Lucas, a black Portsmouth Democrat, compared the process to that of a "lynch mob."
However, Mrs. Sears said the judge should not be reappointed because the case against her was too strong.
Mrs. Sears also said she could not exonerate Judge Askew after she called for the resignation of former House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., who left office after he acknowledged paying $100,000 to settle a sexual-harassment claim.
"Is that what Doctor King fought for?," Mrs. Sears asked. "I think he wanted us to be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin."
She said her decision yesterday was more about the caucus not supporting her when Gov. Mark R. Warner took a bill she was sponsoring and gave it to state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, Charlottesville Democrat.
"They said nothing," Mrs. Sears said. "If I were to look at it the way they look at things, a white governor stole a black delegate's bill and gave it to a white senator. Shouldn't they have been rallying behind me. But they don't see it that way, they see it as political … and I am weary of their games."
Ellen Qualls, spokeswoman for Mr. Warner, said the governor had been interested in pursuing the legislation since last spring. The bill deals with disciplinary measures at health regulatory boards. Miss Qualls said the lawmakers had worked together but filed separate bills.
"I am sorry that she feels it somehow undermined her bill," Miss Qualls said. "We wanted to share the credit."

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