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Youngkin chooses former Heritage Foundation official as Virginia’s diversity officer

Angela Sailor in 2017. (Cheriss May/Sipa USA/AP)

RICHMOND — Gov. Glenn Youngkin has chosen Angela Sailor, a former executive with the conservative Heritage Foundation, as Virginia’s chief diversity officer.

Youngkin (R) also said he will seek legislation to change the name of her department from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to the Office of Diversity, Opportunity and Inclusion. The position was established in 2019 by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and the then-Democratic-controlled General Assembly as the first Cabinet-level diversity position in the country.

Along with the name change, Youngkin issued an executive order Wednesday adding duties to the office such as being an “ambassador for unborn children” and ensuring that parents have a voice in how schools teach American history.

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“Angela Sailor’s experience in government, nonprofits and the private sector will guide us as we ensure that the government is working for all Virginians across our diverse Commonwealth, especially when it comes to economic opportunity for all Virginians,” Youngkin said in a statement announcing the appointment.

Sailor has a long record in government and Republican politics. She was a top lieutenant at Heritage to another recent Youngkin appointee — Kay Coles James, the former Heritage president who Youngkin appointed as secretary of the commonwealth. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank.

In 2019, James named Sailor as head of a new organization within the Heritage Foundation: the Feulner Institute, which had a mission to “restore confidence in America’s founding values and principles,” according to its website.

Sailor served in the White House Office of Public Liaison during the George W. Bush administration, where “her portfolio included domestic policy directly impacting the African-American and Senior Citizen communities,” according to the biography released by the Youngkin administration. She also served as deputy chief of staff to Bush education secretary Rod Paige.

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Under Northam, the diversity office was charged with creating a plan to address “systemic inequities” throughout state government. Wednesday’s announcement said the office will now take “a stronger and more focused role on promoting ideas, policies, and economic opportunities for disadvantaged Virginians, including Virginians living with disabilities and bringing Virginians of different faiths together.”

Youngkin put those changes and more into the executive order Wednesday. Stating that “every one of us is made in the image of our Creator,” the order notes that America’s history has sometimes “truly failed to live up to our ideals. But we all want to do what is right and what is morally just even if we fall short.”

To ensure that every Virginian receives “equal opportunity,” the order says, the diversity office must have a role in promoting economic opportunity, free speech and “civil discourse.” Youngkin’s order calls on the office to bring “Virginians of different faiths” together for community service and promote “viewpoint diversity in higher education.”

The order also calls for the office to “promote ideas, policies, and practices to eliminate disparities in prenatal care, and be an ambassador for unborn children.” And as part of being “responsive to the rights of parents,” the order says, the office will be required to work with the state education department to ensure “that the teaching of Virginia’s and the United States’ history is honest, objective, and complete.”

Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico), the head of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said he was not familiar enough with Sailor to comment on her appointment. But he said he was troubled by the effort to rename and refashion the department. “Literally their first step is taking equity out of the equation,” he said.

Sailor and all of Youngkin’s other Cabinet appointees are subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. The House of Delegates has a narrow Republican majority while the Senate has a thin Democratic majority.

Sailor’s appointment rounds out Youngkin’s Cabinet, which features 11 men and five women and includes three African Americans.

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