Virginia's crisis goes from bad to worse - What's Your Point?

This week's panel: Jessica Colon - Republican strategist, Nyanza Davis Moore - Democratic Political Commentator Attorney, Bob Price – Associate Editor of Breitbart Texas,  Antonio Diaz- writer, educator and radio host,  Tomaro Bell – Super Neighborhood leader, Ben Streusand – conservative commentator, “Three Amigos”, KSEV Radio  talk about the pandemonium for progressives in Virginia.

 

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia's embattled lieutenant governor has urged authorities to investigate sexual assault allegations made against him, but hasn't heeded calls to resign and it is unclear what comes next for the once-rising star of the state Democratic Party.

Two women have made allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. But on Saturday, Fairfax issued a statement repeating his strong denials that he had ever sexually assaulted anyone and made clear he does not intend to immediately resign.

Democratic Del. Patrick Hope said he wants to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax on Monday, but Hope is not a powerful figure in the House and there's little sign there's a broad appetite for impeachment with lawmakers set to finish this year's legislative session by the end of the month.

If an impeachment hearing does occur, though, attorneys for both of the women -Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson - say they are willing to testify. The Associated Press does not generally name victims of alleged sexual assault, but both women have come forward voluntarily.

Watson alleges that Fairfax raped her while they were students at Duke University in 2000, her attorney said in a statement. Tyson, a California college professor, alleges that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him at a Boston hotel in 2004.

"We are confident that once the Virginia legislature hears Dr. Tyson's harrowing account of this sexual assault, the testimony of many corroborating witnesses, and evidence of his attempts to mislead the public about The Washington Post's decision not to run a story in 2018, it will conclude that he lacks the character, fitness and credibility to serve in any capacity," the statement from the professor's lawyers said.

Fairfax has denied both allegations and on Saturday asked that "no one rush to judgment."

"Our American values don't just work when it's convenient - they must be applied at the most difficult of times," he said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ralph Northam pledged to work at healing the state's racial divide and made his first official appearance a week after a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page surfaced and he acknowledged wearing blackface in the 1980s. Northam has also defied calls from practically his entire party to step down.

After the second allegation against Fairfax was made Friday, he was barraged with demands to step down from top Democrats, including a number of presidential hopefuls and most of Virginia's congressional delegation. Fairfax is the second African-American to ever win statewide office.

Northam - now a year into his four-year term - has told his top staff he's staying in office and said he wants to focus the rest of his term as governor on taking concrete steps toward increasing racial equality.

In his first interview since the scandal erupted, a chastened Northam told The Washington Post on Saturday that the uproar has pushed him to confront the state's deep and lingering divisions over race, as well as his own insensitivity. But he said that reflection has convinced him that, by remaining in office, he can work to resolve them.

"It's obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do," Northam said in the interview, conducted at the Executive Mansion. "There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity."

Northam said he planned to focus on addressing issues stemming from inequality, including improving access to health care, housing, and transportation. He also repeated his contention that he is not pictured in the photo on his yearbook page that shows someone in blackface standing alongside someone in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. But he could not explain how the photo wound up there, or why he initially had taken responsibility for it.

"I overreacted," he said. "If I had it to do over again, I would step back and take a deep breath."

On Saturday, Northam made his first official public appearance since he denied being in the photo, attending the funeral for a state trooper killed in a shootout. But he made no public comments upon arriving in Chilhowie, four hours west of the tumult in Richmond.

Meanwhile, the lieutenant governor did not make any public appearances Saturday and released his statement late in the day, after Republican state House Speaker Kirk Cox and the Democratic Party of Virginia joined a chorus of other calls for Fairfax to resign.

Since the two allegations against Fairfax were made, many top Democrats running for president in 2020 have called for Fairfax's resignation, including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Virginia's Democratic congressional delegation was split.

Party elders Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Bobby Scott said Fairfax should resign if the allegations against him are true.

Other congressional Democrats made unqualified calls for Fairfax to resign.

If Fairfax were to leave, it's unclear who could replace him. Northam may try to appoint a Democrat, while Republicans could mount a legal challenge with the goal of having Sen. Steve Newman, the Senate's pro tem, serve as both a voting senator and temporary lieutenant governor.

The tumult in Virginia began Feb. 1, with the discovery of the photo on Northam's yearbook profile page.

Northam at first admitted he was in the picture, then denied it a day later, but acknowledged he wore blackface to look like Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984.

Attorney General Mark Herring has since acknowledged wearing blackface at a college party in 1980. Herring - who would become governor if both Northam and Fairfax resign - had previously called on Northam to resign and came forward after rumors about the existence of a blackface photo of him began circulating at the Capitol.

Although the Democratic Party has taken almost a zero-tolerance approach to misconduct among its members in this #MeToo era, a housecleaning in Virginia could be costly to them: If all three Democrats resigned, Republican Cox would become governor.

Democrats are also despondent about what the scandals have done to their 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 Donald 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 currently held by Democrats.

(Associated Press reporters Steve Helber in Chilhowie, Virginia; Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia; Julie Pace and Michael Biesecker in Washington; Jonathan Drew in Durham, North Carolina; Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland; Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston; and Thomas Beaumont in Mason City, Iowa, contributed to this report.)

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Eva Siakam's choice to campaign for Ralph Northam in 2017 was a simple one: He was a Democrat and endorsed by Barack Obama, America's first black president.

But sitting in a stylist's chair at Supreme Hair Styling Boutique in Richmond on Friday, she shook her head in disgust when asked about revelations that Northam wore blackface 35 years ago.

"I really believed in him," said Siakam, a 28-year-old student. "To find out that he dressed up in blackface is disappointing. He's shown his disdain for black people."

Black voters who factored prominently in the 2017 election that helped Northam become Virginia governor are feeling betrayed over the scandals that have engulfed the state over the past week, leaving them with a less-than-ideal set of choices at the top of the Democratic Party: a governor and attorney general who wore blackface and a lieutenant governor who stands accused by two women of sexual assault. The next person in line for governor is a conservative Republican.

Many are struggling to come to grips with a list of nagging questions: Do they forgive the Democrats, keep Republicans out of power and demand the governor get serious about racism? Should Northam step down and hand the office to African-American Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who faces sexual assault allegations? Or should all three of them walk away and let principle prevail, even if the other party takes charge?

The dilemma was being weighed in black barber shops, salons, restaurants and living rooms and in activist and political circles across the state in the midst of a still-unfolding reckoning around race and scandal in the Old Dominion.

"We don't even know where to take the conversation from here," community organizer Chelsea Wise said at a meeting of Democrats in Richmond on Thursday. "Do we want to address all of them, or are we just sticking with Ralph right now? The fact that it's all of our top leadership shows that we need to take a hard look at the Virginia Democratic Party as well."

The governor has been facing calls to resign ever since a photo emerged from his medical school yearbook page in 1984 that showed someone in blackface next to a person wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe. He initially said he was in the photo, then denied that but said he did wear blackface when he impersonated Michael Jackson around the same time. Days later, Fairfax was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004, and Attorney General Mark Herring came forward to admit that he, too, wore blackface in the 1980s.

As of Friday night, Northam informed his Cabinet that he was determined to stay in office, Herring remained in a wait-and-see posture, and Fairfax had denied a second accusation of sexual assault, this one from a classmate at Duke University who said he raped her in 2000. Northam is vowing to start an honest conversation on race to begin to heal Virginia's lingering racial legacy.

Siakam said she thinks Northam should resign, but said the conversation must now turn to the larger impacts of racism on communities of color.

"There's nothing you can do for us to forget, but we should focus more now on structural racism," she said.

African-Americans, who make up 20 percent of Virginia voters, overwhelmingly supported the commonwealth's top three Democrats in 2017, in large part as a repudiation of what they saw as the racist rhetoric and policies prevalent in the 2016 presidential campaign and the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville just months before the election. Both Northam and Herring campaigned heavily in black areas, and were given entree into many communities by local officials, faith leaders, business owners and regular citizens.

Wise said she had reservations about Northam's commitment to black communities during the election, but supported him anyway and was prepared to hold him accountable amid a racially divided national climate.

"We knew Trump had just gotten elected and we needed a Democratic governor in Virginia, especially because of the importance of the state in national elections," Wise, 34, explained. "I almost felt like I couldn't question him because of the urgency add the importance of what we just had on the national level."

Wise said she felt betrayed by Northam's revelations, particularly because he remained silent about his own past after the events of Charlottesville.

"How in the world did you not come out and do your own truth-telling?" she said. "That makes me recognize that you don't have the insight and emotional capacity to take on what we need in Virginia at this time."

Shemicia Bowen campaigned for Democrats up and down the ticket. The 44-year-old Richmond resident said she gasped when she learned the governor had worn blackface 35 years ago. She finds Herring's revelations were even more alarming because he's the state's top lawyer and has to deal with daily decisions affecting black people in the criminal justice system.

Still, Bowen struggles with the way forward for black Virginians. She doesn't think anyone will step down, and as a loyal Democrat, she's not sure they should turn over the state to Republicans.

"We can't just throw the whole ticket away at this point," said Bowen. "But we have to understand that blackface is a blatant form of disrespect. If an elected official isn't aware of that, what else are they not aware of? What else do you feel like is not a big deal? How are you able to effectively be a voice for every person?"

Norfolk native Joe Dillard said Northam should resign, and that the allegations against Fairfax should be investigated before discussing what consequences he should face. But the idea of a Republican governor should all three step aside was not unpalatable if it's the right decision, he said.

"Do I think I should support Democrats to the point where I allow certain things that my great-grandparents would slap me in the face for letting slide? No, I won't," Dillard said. "I am not a Democrat before I'm an African-American man. For me, it's always people over party."

Dillard and Bowen, both members of a group of young blacks active in Virginia politics, said Northam should immediately allocate at least $20 million to the state's historically black colleges and universities, which have been underfunded. Dillard also suggested an African-American liaison in the governor's office, to establish a pipeline for young blacks to rise to meaningful positions in government. Wise is already looking ahead to future cycles, where she feels more black women in leadership would help restore her confidence in the party.

Jim Scurlock, a longtime elections supervisor in Richmond who went to segregated high schools in Roanoke before experiencing the sting of Jim Crow as a young soldier in the Army in 1960, was withholding judgment on Fairfax. And he said given the national political climate and the country's racist legacy, everyone deserves a second chance.

"Probably many, many more in the General Assembly wore blackface," Scurlock, 82, said. "Virginia is still a racist state. It hasn't changed much. And look at the president and all he has done . I haven't forgiven the president, but he's still in office, so why should they resign?"