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Youngkin appoints Kay Coles James as secretary of the commonwealth

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Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin on Friday named Kay Coles James, a former Virginia health secretary who led the U.S. Office of Personnel Management under President George W. Bush, as secretary of the commonwealth.

Among other duties, a secretary of the commonwealth helps a governor fill key posts on many boards and commissions.

James, a co-chair of Youngkin’s transition steering committee, served as secretary of Health and Human Resources in Gov. George Allen’s administration from 1994 to 1996. She held the personnel post in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2005. In recent years, she was president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington.

“Secretary James will be a true asset to the administration,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Our shared vision combined with her tremendous experience will pave the way for a new day in Virginia. Kay has an extensive public service background; she has always been a leader and innovator in Virginia government.”

James previously has served as a member of the Fairfax County School Board, the state Board of Education and the Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors. She also has been dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University.

James, born in Portsmouth, was raised in public housing in Richmond before graduating from Hampton University. She founded the Gloucester Institute, which offers leadership training to African American college students.

Under President George H.W. Bush’s administration from 1989 to 1993, she served as associate director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and as assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

James is the second person of color in the governor-elect’s Cabinet, along with Craig Crenshaw, Youngkin’s pick for secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs.

James succeeds Kelly Thomasson, who has served as secretary of the commonwealth since 2016 in Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration.

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