RICHMOND, Va. — After a week of revelations that have separately disgraced Virginia’s top three political leaders, Governor Ralph Northam remained firm Sunday in his intention to stay in office and stopped short of calling for the resignations of his fellow scandal-plagued Democratic leaders.
In an interview with “CBS This Morning,” Northam said he was “not going anywhere” and instead would work as governor to “take action with policy to address” inequities in Virginia.
Asked about his two besieged colleagues — Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is facing accusations of sexual assault, and Attorney General Mark Herring, who admitted to wearing blackface as a college student in the 1980s — Northam said that they “have all grown” over the past week, and that the decisions on whether to resign would have to be made by the men themselves.
The governor endorsed Fairfax’s proposal, made in a statement released Saturday night, to have the FBI investigate the sexual assault charges. “I really think where we are now, we need to get to the truth,” he said.
In the interview, he also said he was dedicated to continuing the work of racial progress, pointing out that the state is 400 years from the moment “the first indentured servants from Africa” landed in Virginia.
At which the interviewer, Gayle King, chimed in: “Also known as slavery.”
It has been more than a week since a photograph showing men in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan outfit on Northam’s medical school yearbook page came to light. Nearly every day since has provided an unforeseen twist.
The governor, who initially apologized for appearing in the photo and appeared to be on the verge of resigning, has since insisted it is not him in the picture. A Washington Post-Schar School poll released Saturday showed that Virginians are evenly split on the question of whether the governor should resign. That same poll showed that black residents were in fact significantly more likely to support his staying in office, though nearly 40 percent still believed he should step down.
The scandals have become a full-blown crisis for Virginia Democrats. Although the party has taken an almost zero-tolerance approach to misconduct among its members in this #MeToo era, a housecleaning in Virginia could be costly: If all three Democrats resigned, Republican state House Speaker Kirk Cox would become governor.
The scandals also could hurt the Democrats’ chances of flipping control of the General Assembly. All 140 legislative seats will be up for grabs in November and Democrats had previously been hopeful that voter antipathy toward President Trump would help them cement Virginia’s status as a blue state. Now many fret their current crisis in leadership will not only cost them chances of winning GOP-held seats, but also several seats currently held by Democrats.
Fairfax, who a week ago seemed almost certain to take the governor’s place, now appears to be in political danger. He has denied the assault allegations, insisting that the sexual encounters in 2000 and 2004 at the center of the claims were consensual, and on Saturday night released a statement calling for an investigation and citing the need for “due process.”
Still, he has lost the support of nearly all Virginia Democratic leaders and lawmakers, who have overwhelmingly said they back his resignation. One legislator, a Democrat, said he would introduce articles of impeachment if Fairfax did not step down by Monday.
Despite Fairfax’s and Northam’s vows to remain in office, it is not clear how much support they can regain. Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation” after clips of the interview with Northam were played, two Democratic members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, Representatives Jennifer Wexton and Don Beyer, said they still believed Northam and Fairfax should step down.
“I don’t believe he can effectively lead the commonwealth at this time,” Wexton said of the governor. Of Fairfax, she said, “I believe the lieutenant governor will do the right thing for Virginia and resign.”
Neither representative called for the resignation of Herring, contrasting his “heartfelt” apology and outreach to African-American leaders with Northam’s peculiar response, first apologizing for being in the photo and then insisting it was not him. They also dismissed Fairfax’s calls for an investigation, describing the accusations against him as “extremely credible.”
In the Washington Post poll, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they did not know enough to form an opinion about Fairfax’s denial of the initial sexual assault allegation by Vanessa Tyson. The poll was taken before the second allegation of sexual assault became public.
Wexton and Beyer were not the only politicians to weigh in on the scandals in Virginia on Sunday morning. Shortly before their appearances, Trump chimed in on Twitter, apparently alluding to the political awkwardness of scandals that may take down the black lieutenant governor while leaving in place the white governor and attorney general, who have both admitted to wearing blackface.
“African Americans are very angry at the double standard on full display in Virginia!” the president tweeted, before going on to declare that “the Virginia disaster” had been one part of “a very bad week for the Democrats.”Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.