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Chaos in Virginia

As of this writing, Democrats Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring are, respectively, the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general for the state of Virginia. Whether any of them are in those positions by this time next week is an open question.


The revelation on Feb 1 that Northam was one of two young men in a picture in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook – one student was wearing blackface, the other Ku Klux Klan garb – sent a shockwave around the nation. Northam initially admitted that he was one of the young men. While the presumption was that he was the one in blackface, the governor did not confirm that. He later changed course, denying he was in the picture at all but admitting he had worn blackface – a notorious symbol of racism – to another event.


Calls immediately came from Republicans for him to step down. Some of his fellow Democrats initially defended him but were quickly drowned out by a growing chorus of other state and national Dems who urged him to immediately step aside in favor of Lt. Gov. Fairfax.


But that possibility was immediately called into question over allegations that Fairfax had sexually assaulted a woman in 2004. He has vigorously denied the accusation.


If both were to step down, Attorney General Mark Herring would become the next Old Dominion governor. But that also became problematic for Dems when Herring revealed that while in college he had also once worn “brown paint” and a wig to imitate a rap singer at a party. He issued a long written apology, saying, “That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt.”


What happens from here is unclear. Northam and Fairfax have to-date vowed they will not resign their positions. Republicans have called on Herring to resign, but to date he has not indicated he will do so. He did, however, resign his position as co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association. His announced 2021 gubernatorial candidacy is also now in question.


One option not likely to happen is all three resigning, which would hand the governor’s office to House Speaker Kirk Cox (R). Noted University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato recently laid out the possibility that Northam could resign in favor of Fairfax, who would then also resign after choosing a successor other than herring, thereby ensuring Democrats keep the governor’s office. 


Beyond their personal futures, many political observers believe the trio’s travails may have dealt a body blow to their party’s chances of reclaiming the House or Senate, or both, in this fall’s legislative elections. But for now, the only thing certain in Virginia is uncertainty. (WASHINGTON POST, CENTER FOR POLITICS [UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA], NEW YORK TIMES, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, HILL [WASHINGTON D.C.])