The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Covering the Republican gubernatorial candidates and the 2021 nomination method this past spring was not for the faint of heart. Each week brought a strange new bump in the road leading up to May 8 when all over Virginia nearly 40 un-assembled conventions were held to decide who would represent the GOP ticket on November 2.

For a recap of those convoluted happenings, you can read my series of articles beginning here on Bearing Drift, but I am about to tell you there has never been a better time to be hopeful and to move on. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

When the votes were counted from the May convention, we learned that Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears, and Jason Miyares had prevailed for Governor, Lt Governor, and the Attorney General nominee. Never in a ticket’s history had so little been known about each of the nominees, particularly about businessman Glenn Youngkin, a complete newcomer.

This is what you find if you type his name in google: Youngkin is an American businessman and political candidate. Prior to entering politics, he spent 25 years at the private-equity firm The Carlyle Group, rising to become its CEO in January 2018.

As the surprise and smoke cleared from an ugly and wildly contentious convention season, the three winning nominees began to appear at events, and the word went out right away this was no ordinary ticket, but as you know seeing is believing.

I’ll be honest. I was a little worried when I learned they would be coming to our Caroline County Agricultural Fair. In Caroline we haven’t reached the partisan crescendo yet that plague other localities. It may sound cliché, but I’m not here to apologize.

In my locality it’s still about the individual and not the party. Local candidates mostly run for office as Independent, with some Republican, and some Democrat, but to get along in Caroline they have to represent everyone and they do just that. On election day, for the most part, Republicans and Democrats still stand under the same umbrella if it rains, and make runs to get each other coffee and lunch.

Caroline, the last rural outpost on I-95 between Richmond and D.C., has under new board leadership in the last ten plus years been transformed from a sleeping giant (11th largest county in Virginia) to a place which is attracting new business and many new residents.

Just a decade ago, Caroline was making payroll on a credit card and a breath away from bankruptcy. Today it has money in the bank and a bond rating as well as several “business ready locations” with utilities and road improvements in the primary growth area.

With taxes and regulations low, Caroline has been a steady recipient of the residential mecca from the cities. Newcomers can choose to buy a home in Caroline in “rural or agricultural preservation” with 10 acre lots and more, in the Mayberry-like atmosphere of the Town of Bowling Green, in one of the new subdivisions near the golf course on I-95, or a historic home in the 18th century seaport Town of Port Royal along the Rappahannock River.

Caroline is the only county large enough to lie in both the Tidewater and the Piedmont, and is not only large, but the watchword of diverse. The sheer size of the county has tended to make it a locality of villages and enclaves unique in nature, but even these are diverse.

However, we still have to shop together in one of the two grocery stores, while our kids go to one middle and high school and sit beside each other in church on Sunday. Everyone in the community is either related or connected in some close way, and so practically speaking we don’t have the luxury of creating barriers among one another. New people are quickly connected and engaged with the community either through the schools or numerous organizations, and seem relieved they are not forced to choose sides. It is truly the unspoken secret of Caroline County.

There are a few who have tried, and still try, to make the atmosphere ugly, but so far have failed. While it’s just a matter of time before we lose these attributes, most of us will enjoy it while it lasts. So, while we are vibrant with the new, we are still a county who values community tradition and view themselves as one. You will often see the hashtag #OneCaroline on social media.

In post-Trump Virginia, even as he recedes into a role as the most famous ex-president ever, either deeply loved or deeply hated, his shadow still looms large. Let’s face it. Republicans in spite of their lip service to the contrary have monumental work to do when it comes to minorities and diversity in general.

Talk is cheap until I see a candidate routinely and often in the minority community asking the right questions and using the information to find solutions.  Even if I really like a candidate, I am a tough sell on this issue. There is no checking the box off with me.  I want to see an ear to the ground, and know names, faces, and issues within these communities long term.

The Caroline County Agricultural Fair is certainly just the place for a test run for candidates. Visited by people of all ages and colors, this year was no exception with record attendance as things opened back up following COVID.

The fair celebrated 100 years in 2018, and while it has not operated continually for those years and had a variety of locations, the descendants of the same families who kept it alive still work and create the fair we know today.

With a huge plethora of state awards, the fair’s main goal is to preserve our agricultural heritage, from what women cooked and canned in the kitchen and the things they made by hand for their families, to what men grew in the fields to feed their families and the region. The Heritage building and museum is impressive and filled with artifacts pertinent to the history of the county.

In 2009, Mrs. Ann Tate, a member of one of the core families who kept the fair alive, donated 40 acres from her farm and the fair ended its nomadic life and found a permanent home. The site that is located on a knoll is amazingly beautiful with a view of the original farm and a sky and sunset which are nothing less than legendary behind the rolling fields.

On the fair property, where once there were only fields in the last ten years, wonderful buildings have been erected for every purpose due to the diligence of the fair committee and generosity of the community. The fair has not only received a huge buy-in from locals but has also attracted visitors from throughout the region and become a mainstay tourist attraction for the county.

Sam Henley, Commissioner of the Revenue for Caroline Mark Bissoon, and Sheriff Tony Lippa wait on the arrival of the Republican ticket.

Youngkin, Sears, and Miyares arrived to stump at our old-fashioned county fair on a busy Saturday night just as the band was beginning to play in the new entertainment pavilion. I’ve been walking candidates around Caroline for 20 plus years, and immediately I knew this was different. All three candidates were interested in people and more importantly “who” they were and “what was important to them.”

I needn’t have worried about our fiercely independent Caroline people who don’t allow politicians to tell them what to think. They had plenty to say and the candidates listened.

It’s impossible to describe what this ticket has but beyond a doubt they are the three most charismatic candidates, both together and separately, I have ever seen. I dearly loved McDonnell and Bolling (and still do) but they were politicos from long years of talking the talk and walking the walk. These candidates are so NOT.

If I had a word to describe the most unknown of the group, political outsider Glenn Youngkin who is running for Governor, it would be the word “kind.” Not to say he isn’t strong on the issues, but his way with people is kind and compassionate. It’s been a long time since I could say that about a candidate.

As we walked the fair and people began to recognize him and we stopped for folks to shake his hand, his love of and interest in people took center stage.  One gentleman in a wheel chair waiting patiently for his turn finally insisted on standing to have his picture taken with Glenn. The look on his face and the respect I saw in the way Glenn treated him was worth my three-hour walk in the summer heat.

Caroline resident Ray Schiebel stands up to meet Glenn Youngkin.


Local fair goer Bobby Satterwhite recognizes the candidate and comes to meet Congressman Wittman and Glenn Youngkin, who is running for Governor. Congressman Wittman is a familiar face at the Caroline County Agricultural Fair and visits to do the corn-shucking and watermelon contest every year.

Youngkin asked questions of everyone he met, and when he learned he was talking with the daughters of beloved fair matriarch, the late Mrs. Ann Tate, he insisted we move locations so that the family farm could be in the background of the picture. I knew for sure then that he got it.

If elected, our citizens will be in good hands with this man. Another family waited patiently to talk to him and the delight on his face was apparent when he shared holding their baby girl. Glenn Youngkin has a natural, genuine, and instinctive way with people which rises above his lack of experience in politics. No one and I mean no one is more surprised than I.

One of the GOP ticket’s youngest fans.

The daughters of Mrs. Ann Tate who donated the land for the fair, Lynda Jo Tate and Nancy Tate Cabaniss, pose with Glenn in front of their homeplace.

Farmers from all over the region were present to welcome the ticket including local Farm Bureau President Lynwood Broaddus.

Part two and part three of the ticket are equally impressive, but in completely different and unique ways. There really is no one like Winsome Sears, and her pictures don’t do her justice. In person, there is a vibrancy about her that is hard to describe.

Winsome is both beautiful and brilliant and commands whatever space she happens to be in for the moment. To say that she never meets a stranger is an understatement. Get ready to do some thinking if you meet her. Winsome will make you think and question what you know about issues and Virginia in general.

Tina Gambill made a special visit to the fair hoping to meet Winsome Sears.

Member of the Caroline Board of Supervisors Jeff Sili was on hand to greet the ticket as they came through the gate.  

Here is what you will learn from google on Winsome, but I recommend finding an event she is attending and meet her one on one. Sears was born in Jamaica and grew up in the BronxNew York City. She joined the United States Marine Corps and was trained as an electrician and mechanic. Sears earned a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in economics from Old Dominion University and a Master of Arts degree in organizational leadership from Regent University.

Before running for public office, Sears ran a homeless shelter. In November 2001, Sears upset 20-year Democratic incumbent William P. “Billy” Robinson, Jr. while running for the 90th district seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Sears was the first black female Republican, first female veteran, and the first naturalized citizen delegate to serve.

The guy running to be the “top cop” in Virginia, Attorney General hopeful Jason Miyares, is perhaps the most well known in political circles, but he too is simply excellent with real people.

Miyares is an attorney in the Virginia General Assembly representing the 82nd District in the House of Delegates, which includes Virginia Beach. He is the quieter of the three, but is a fountain of knowledge about what has taken place with our laws and judicial system in Virginia and how to stem the tide. A conversation with him will be issues based and no nonsense, but there is a realness about him too that is unlike your typical politician. He’s young and wicked smart, but he openly enjoyed the opportunity to campaign the old-fashioned way, stumping at a county fair.

Toward the end of their visit, we stopped at the entertainment building where the band soon invited Winsome on to the stage which, if you know her, isn’t surprising. They asked her to introduce herself and the rest of the ticket. When she did, the crowd roared it’s approval.

Sears told everyone it wasn’t the time for political speeches and told the band to keep jammin’ and the crowd to keep dancing. All three candidates hit the dance floor with local folks, including Jason Miyares who showed off a bit of Latin dance moves.

After dancing with Glenn Youngkin, a Caroline citizen wrote on her Facebook page, “It’s nice to know our next Governor is a down to earth kind of person who joins in with his constituents instead of acting like he is better than all.”

Caroline resident, Lavonne Matiak, dances with candidate for Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.

So in closing for those who don’t vote a party, but vote for the individual on his or her merits, or voted for another candidate in the convention, or don’t vote at all,  I think this is the real deal.  The fact that they aren’t typical politicians or completely political…….well that’s okay.  Apparently, that’s what was needed.

As Saturday’s event wound down, the sun began to set with our Caroline locally famous view from Tate Hill, and became bright with color and light shining in through the back of the pavilion.  I could not help but be reminded there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Senator Ryan McDougle, Caroline Farmer Robbie Caruthers of Newmarket,  and Jeff Sili, Caroline Board of Supervisors.

John Nunnally, chairman of the Caroline Electoral Board, talks it over with Glenn Youngkin.

Veteran Dean Klanecky from Lake Land Or in Caroline waited patiently to talk to the candidate.

The Holcombs and Jason Tickle talk over issues. Donna Holcomb is on the Habitat for Humanity Board and Jason Tickle is the local director.

Greeting Caroline Sheriff Tony Lippa.

The Stroud family greets the candidate as he arrives.

Joanne O’Quinn, longtime Republican supporter and advocate, wanted her picture with Glenn and a John Deere tractor.

The Phillips family from the Town of Bowling speaking with Glen Youngkin.

Senator Ryan McDougle, his daughter Reagan and friend Morgan, talk to the local 4-H Club while waiting for the candidates to arrive.  McDougle represents Caroline in the 4th Senatorial District in the Virginia General Assembly. 

Sam Henley and Delegate Bobby Orrock who represents Caroline in the 54th District in the General Assembly.

Delegate Margaret Ransone with constituents Bernie and Pattie Driver.


Photos by Susan Sili

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