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Cabinet pick to ‘change the trajectory of the commonwealth’

Kay Coles James, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin’s new secretary of the commonwealth, is a staunch...
Kay Coles James, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin’s new secretary of the commonwealth, is a staunch conservative with an unconventional origin story in Virginia.
Published: Jan. 15, 2022 at 3:00 PM EST
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Kay Coles James, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin’s new secretary of the commonwealth, is a staunch conservative with an unconventional origin story in Virginia.

James was born in Portsmouth, grew up in public housing with a family she has described as “dysfunctional” and was eventually raised by her aunt and uncle.

As a seventh-grader, she was among the first Black students to integrate Richmond’s Chandler Junior High School in 1961. She later became the first woman and the first African American to lead a prominent conservative think-tank in D.C., The Heritage Foundation.

After graduating from the historically Black Hampton University, she went on to work for conservative groups, Republican presidential administrations and was the chief architect of a welfare reform overhaul for Republican Virginia Gov. George Allen. She also cut Virginia state employee staff levels as part of a broad down-sizing effort.

For her next stint in Virginia government, James, 72, will serve as Youngkin’s secretary of the commonwealth. The secretary of the commonwealth helps the governor fill appointments on boards and commissions and processes and reviews pardon petitions for “executive clemency,” among other duties.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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