As all three political leaders of Virginia’s Democrat-led executive branch have dealt with racial and sexual scandals over the past two weeks, it seems that not only Attorney General Mark Herring (D), but also Governor Ralph Northam (D) may get off scot-free for appearing in racist photos. After a week of rapprochement of protests in front of the Executive Mansion in downtown Richmond and universal calls from his own party for his resignation, former Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) is also backing down his charge for Northam to leave office.
McAuliffe, a presumed 2020 Democratic presidential contender, appeared on CBS‘s “Face the Nation” to speak about the controversies in the Commonwealth, meanwhile peddling his new book “Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism,” which is about how “Virginia and the country continue to deal with racism.”
While hitting off the segment with his new book, McAuliffe did not say a word about resignations, seemingly accepting Northam’s extraordinarily vague plan to redeem his image and his governorship with a “focus on race and equity.”
“I think he’s made a decision he’s going to stay in,” McAuliffe said of Northam, who was his own lieutenant governor while he was in charge of the Commonwealth until January 2018. McAuliffe added, “but the way that Ralph survives and brings Virginia back together, he’s got to lean in on these very important issues.”
Nevertheless, as Northam launches his “listening tour” throughout the Commonwealth to learn more about “race, history, and white privilege,” and other obvious things he apparently never knew, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (D) is also dealing with a deepening sexual assault scandal that has his staffers jumping ship and his part-time law firm employer suspending him.
Currently, Fairfax is battling back against two accusers, one who said he sexually assaulted her in 2004, and one who said he raped her while in college in 2000.
Dr. Vanessa Tyson, a Scripps College professor, has alleged that Fairfax sexually assaulted her at the 2004 Boston Democratic National Convention. In her statement published by the New York Times, Dr. Tyson said she came forward after the news of Fairfax’s likely elevation to the top political position in Virginia as the governor is embroiled in racial controversy, because it “flooded” her with “painful memories, bringing back feelings of grief, shame, and anger that stemmed from an incident with Mr. Fairfax.”
Meredith Wilson, a student at Duke University in 2000, while Fairfax also attended the North Carolina college, came forth days later with allegations that she was raped by Fairfax in a “premeditated and aggressive” fashion.
Fairfax has called the accusations “false and unsubstantiated,” a “totally fabricated story,” and “demonstrably false.” The lieutenant governor has also accused staffers of embattled Governor Northam for leaking the sexual assault allegations and engaging in a “vicious and coordinated smear campaign” to derail his pathway to the governor’s office.
When news of the second sexual assault allegation broke, McAuliffe wasted no time in calling for Fairfax’s “immediate” resignation on Twitter.
“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible. It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia as Lieutenant Governor. I call for his immediate resignation,” he said.
However, McAuliffe is now quieting his own requests and demanding an investigation into the allegations.
Commenting on the situation, McAuliffe said, “Very serious allegations have been made. They need to be investigated…So we will go through that process.”
Showing a willingness to investigate the alleged crimes, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) has said any inquiry must be bipartisan and “very deliberate.” However, House Democrats have blocked any probe by the General Assembly from moving forward, scuttling last week’s impeachment push by Delegate Patrick Hope (D-Arlington).
Regardless, McAuliffe’s remarks on Sunday suggest that Democratic leaders are coming around to accepting the scandalous status quo in Richmond. It could be that the party faithful have realized that a Republican would be in line for the governorship if all three in the executive branch resigned, or that, considering they came out and denounced Northam, Fairfax, and Herring, they feel they can remain in a position of moral high ground on issues of race, gender, and social justice.
Despite the situation looking more and more like a political double standard, Virginia’s top-three elected Democrats may end up holding on to their positions for the time being. Whether any of the three can go on to win higher offices still remains to be seen.
The other lurking question facing Virginia Democrats is whether the tainted triumvirate hurts the party as it looks to take control of both houses of the General Assembly in November’s elections, following its 15-seat gain in the House of Delegates in 2017. With a one-member majority in both the House and Senate, the longer the scandals roll on, the more dissatisfied the Democratic base could become, losing excitement at the ballot box.