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What on Earth is Happening in Virginia?

Either sexual assault allegations, or behavior so racist it should be reserved for far-right Republicans, has made its way into the most influential Democratic offices in Virginia. What the hell?

Feb 16, 2019

The three most powerful political figures in Virginian politics are all currently embroiled in their own separate scandals, each so outlandish and problematic it warrants all of them being removed from office.
Ralph Northam, the current Democratic governor of Virginia, is under fire for appearing in a despicably racist yearbook photo in 1984, depicting a side-by-side image of a man dressed in blackface, standing next to another man dressed in a makeshift Ku Klux Klan robe, covering the individual from head to toe. This image, published in the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, generated instant backlash when it resurfaced on February 1st 2019. Liberal advocacy groups, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and a host of influential politicians and presidential hopefuls from both sides of the aisle have publicly condemned Northam.
Governor Northam initially apologized in a lengthy video published on Twitter, “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.”
However, he has since changed his tune. According to the Daily Caller, less than 24 hours after the initial apology, Northam said he believes the incident was “some sort of mix up,” stating in a press conference that “I believe then and now that I am not either of those people in the photo.”
Bear with me now, the situation gets even more bizarre.
Continuing his explanation, Northam insists that he did, in fact, dress in blackface to depict himself as a caricature of an African American, but apparently not in that photo.
“I did participate in a dance costume… in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume... It is because my memory of that is so vivid, that I truly do not believe I am in that picture in my yearbook.”
There is already so much wrong here. First of all, trying to rationalize using blackface by saying that it was to depict Michael Jackson does not make using blackface any better; it is still demonstrably racist.
But even so, wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe or posing in blackface next to someone in a Ku Klux Klan robe really is the kind of thing you would think someone would remember. The fact that he initially apologized then decided to backtrack is puzzling, to say the least. It is also worth noting that he admitted to submitting his own photos for the yearbook but that he submitted the blackface/KKK one by mistake. He has also stated that he had never seen the yearbook before, because he was never sent one.
Many have called for his resignation including both Democratic Senators from Virginia – Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, the National Black Caucus, the ACLU of Virginia and just about every Democratic 2020 hopeful, to name only a few out of a very long and bipartisan list.
Governor Ralph Northam has refused to resign and it doesn't look like he’s budging on that decision. But here’s the thing, even if Northam does step down, his replacements are all terrible as well.
Due to Virginia state law, the next in line if Northam were to step down is Democratic Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, one of the few high-ranking African Americans in Virginia politics, and only the second African American to be elected to statewide office in the state of Virginia.
Fairfax now faces two allegations of rape and sexual assault from Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson. Tyson alleges Fairfax violently forced her to engage in oral sex with him back in 2004 and Watson reported she was raped by Fairfax when the both of them attended Duke University in 2000. Several classmates backed this up as they were told the time of the incident. Fairfax vehemently stated that these allegations were false, and has refused to step down under increasing bipartisan calls for him to resign.
Democratic Virginia Delegate Patrick Hope has stated his plans to introduce articles of impeachment which would have to be approved by Virginia House GOP Speaker Kirk Cox – a move Cox has already designated as appropriate.
Still reading? All of this gets even worse.
Even if both Fairfax and Northam are somehow removed from office, the third in line for the governorship, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring, now faces his own set of allegations.
On Feb. 6, Herring admitted to wearing blackface at a college party in 1980 stating "some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song."
Later that same day, Herring stepped down as co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association for an unspecified period of time. Herring left his political future unclear by stating, “Honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general.”
On Feb. 9, Politico published a headline that read, “GOP sees scandal as chance to halt bluing of Virginia.” Not only are the next two in line after Herring both Republicans, but the brand of the Democratic party in Virginia has been so badly smeared that it will be shocking if it is mended before the 2020 elections, plausibly allowing a Republican takeover in a region already denoted as a swing state. After all of this, who could blame Virginian swing voters from ditching the Democratic party in 2020?
It feels as if the three most powerful Democrats in Virginia Congress came together in a candlelit room and decided to find the most perfect way to destroy their own political careers, the reputation of their party, the chances of Democrats being elected to Virginia congress next election, and how to give Virginia's 13 electoral college votes to Trump in 2020, a state that went blue by just 5.4% of the vote in 2016.
In response to this entire mess, I truly am asking: Dear Virginia Democrats…What the hell?
Ari Hawkins is a staff writer. Email him at
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