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Fiorina to head Virginia’s effort to plan nation’s 250th birthday

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has been chosen as honorary chairperson of Virginia's effort to plan for the 250th birthday of the United States. (Alex Brandon/AP)
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RICHMOND — If you’re old enough to remember “Bicentennial Minutes” interrupting episodes of “M*A*S*H” on television, brace yourself: Preparations are already underway for celebrating the 250th anniversary of the nation’s independence in 2026.

The Virginia American Revolution 250 Commission will announce Monday that former business executive and politician Carly Fiorina will serve as honorary chairperson of the state’s planning for several years’ worth of events.

The effort starts with a branding handicap. While the 200th birthday was known as the Bicentennial, a 250th is technically called a semiquincentennial.

“That’s just too much of a mouthful,” Fiorina said in an interview. “I think it’s wise that everybody calls it Virginia 250.”

The General Assembly created the commission in 2020, and several dozen other states have spun up versions of their own. Virginia’s is seeded with a $7 million appropriation from the state plus a $1 million donation from Dominion Energy. Fundraising is underway toward a goal of $15 million to $20 million, said Del. Terry Austin (R-Botetourt), the commission’s official chairman.

Austin is one of five lawmakers on the 27-member commission, along with heads of various history-related state agencies and 12 citizens appointed by the governor. Though created as an executive branch advisory board, the General Assembly changed it this year to an arm of the legislature.

“It creates an opportunity for us to all come together and celebrate the birth of our nation. We want to include everyone,” Austin said in an interview. The effort will culminate — but not end — with plans for statewide celebrations on July 4, 2026, with grants for individual communities to fund parties of their own.

First up: Officials are preparing a mobile exhibit on Virginia’s crucial role in the events leading up to and during the Revolution. The traveling museum will open up to about 1,100 square feet, Austin said, and take its patriotic lessons to schools, courthouses and other public spaces all over the state.

The commission plans to help communities commemorate events that occurred before, during and after the Revolutionary War. For instance, Austin cited the Jan. 20, 1775, adoption of the Fincastle Resolutions in what’s now Wythe County, said to be the first time colonists officially passed statements vowing to fight to the death against British tyranny. “We’ll probably have a celebration of that,” he said.

Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard and onetime Republican presidential candidate, said she hopes to use her high-profile role to “raise awareness of the history associated with the founding of our nation in all its fullness and complexity” — as well as to highlight Virginia’s central role.

“People tend to think about Boston and Philadelphia, and certainly those are important places. But most of the firsts happened in Virginia,” said Fiorina, who lives on Mason Neck not far from Mount Vernon.

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Those firsts include the House of Burgesses (today known as the House of Delegates) calling for all the colonies to convene committees of correspondence in 1773 to coordinate grievances against the British crown, an early form of revolutionary government. The Virginia 250 commission hosted a meeting in Williamsburg with similar groups from dozens of other states on March 11 and 12, the anniversary of that act, to kick off national planning for the 250th birthday.

Virginia’s role in the creation of today’s United States goes far beyond Thomas Jefferson being the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and James Madison as the architect of the Constitution, Fiorina said. From Jamestown settlers battling with Native Americans led by Powhatan, to the first Africans arriving into bondage in 1619 and on through the Civil War and the Civil Rights era, “Virginia has played this incredibly central, pivotal role in the founding of our nation and everything that’s happened since,” she said.

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With recent studies showing that many Americans are not well-educated about their own history, Fiorina said it’s more important than ever to spread the word during this time of political division and strife.

“The truth is, everything we are debating right now we have debated before. We’ve always been a fractious nation,” she said. “There is much we can learn from history about how to move forward … We need to know where we come from to know who we are.”