Northam, Fairfax, Herring all face accusations of misconduct in their past
By Suresh Hanubal
Three weeks ago, it seemed like things could not get worse for the Virginia Democrats. They were attempting to pass a controversial abortion bill, that was facing severe opposition from Conservatives and even a fair amount of Moderates in the Commonwealth. This bill was always a long shot, as it would reduce oversight on second and third-semester abortions and scrap a previous requirement for a 24 hour waiting period before getting an abortion. In addition, Governor Ralph Northam made things far worse in this case by appearing to endorse infanticide on a public radio show. So it didn’t seem like things could get worse for the Virginia Democratic political establishment. Then, it came out that Northam participated in blackface while a 25-year-old student at Eastern Virginia Medical School.
These yearbook revelations from the 1980s sparked a national discourse about blackface and immediate calls for Governor Northam to resign. In addition, Northam’s catastrophic response to the incident led to further political repercussions for him. Specifically, Northam began by stating that it was, in fact, him in the picture, then backtracked, then said he did participate in blackface but just in that specific instance, and then moonwalked. As this was occurring, revelations came out that Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted a woman in 2004. Within a couple of days, another woman came forward, and it now appears as if Fairfax will have to resign. As this was unfolding, Attorney General Mark Herring revealed that he too participated in blackface while at a college party in 1980, specifically as rapper Kurtis Blow. So in effect, the men who occupy the three most powerful political positions in the Commonwealth of Virginia are all currently implicated in scandal.
The scandals currently implicating the top political brass of Virginia are made all the worse by the nation’s current reckoning with sexual assault in the form of the #MeToo movement and rising racial tensions during the Trump administration. In addition, as a state in the American south, and the capital of the Confederacy, Virginia has had a long and difficult relationship with racism. Thus, these blackface scandals served to show the lingering effects of America’s history with racism on society today. And the effects are of course far-reaching. The fact that two of the three most powerful people in Virginia participated in a racist practice such as blackface underscores the severity of the problem. This is doubly true as the incidents that transpired in the case of Herring and Northam occurred just a couple of decades ago, very much in the recent past for many people. Herring’s incident of blackface did not reach the same level as Northam’s, as it occurred when he was 19 instead of 25. He also did it in reference to a rapper that he liked, instead of just participating in blackface for the sake of participating in blackface. However, that doesn’t change the fact that blackface’s history in this country is steeped in racism.
On sexual assault, it can be said without a doubt that if Fairfax participated in said unspeakable acts, he should resign. As the United States is currently undergoing a national reckoning on the topic, with Democrats, in particular, calling for the resignation of persons accused of sexual assault, it would be hypocritical to not apply this same standard to one of their own. Especially as the party has been advocating for #MeToo movement for the last two years the only possible solution to this, if the allegations are proven to be true, would be a resignation. Thankfully, most Democrats and Republicans, both in Virginia and across the country, have begun to call for his resignation.
The political scandal in Virginia is further complicated by the fact that if all three officeholders were to resign, the governorship would pass to a Republican, Kirk Cox. As the Republican party has been drifting in an extremely conservative direction over the last two decades, this could prove problematic to a wide swath of Virginia’s marginalized populations. Kirk himself has also proven to be a very conservative politician, with a record peckered with things like opposing sanctuary cities and supporting the National Rifle Association (NRA) wholeheartedly. As such it could almost be seen as unfair and undemocratic to the voters of Virginia to impose upon them a governor whose values are antithetical to what they voted for in 2017. As stated previously, the triumvirate of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General are all held by Democrats in Virginia. Although all three of these men have participated in truly unspeakable acts it may not seem completely fair to the voters of Virginia to appoint a person from the opposing political party to that office.
In sum, the events unfolding in Virginia over the past month have rocked both the Commonwealth and the Nation. As of now, there is no clear path out of this predicament, but hopefully the Virginia political leadership eventually makes the right decision. As there have been a number of twists and turns already, there are sure to be many more before the situation resolves itself.