FERGUSON: Virginia’s Democratic leadership has failed the Commonwealth

Northam, Fairfax and Herring have brought shame to Virginia and is citizens

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Virginians must remember the implications of the last few weeks and elect leaders of character and principle to restore decency to Virginia politics. 

Mariana Fraser | Cavalier Daily

Within the scope of a week, all three of Virginia’s top Democratic leaders became mired in scandal. Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) comments on abortion and racist epithets and photographs found in his yearbooks have caused politicians and voters across Virginia and the nation to call for his resignation. Among those was Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who himself confessed to donning blackface in 1980 at a party while attending the University. Meanwhile, Justin Fairfax (D) is accused by Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson of sexual assault and rape. These revelations have impaired their ability to lead, and yet they hold onto power out of apparent self-interest. These revelations themselves are concerning. However, the response at national level, particularly from Democrats, also contributes to the damage that Northam’s, Fairfax’s and Herring’s choices have caused. The shame that has engulfed Virginia politics has exposed the hypocrisy plaguing the progressive cause. This hypocrisy has impaired leaders of the liberal movement’s ability to advocate against issues including race and sexual assault. 

During the 2017 gubernatorial campaign in Virginia, Northam accused the Republican nominee Ed Gillespie (R) of “racist rhetoric and fearmongering” on Twitter in response to his opponent’s intolerance of MS-13, a gang linked to illegal immigration, murders and various other violent crimes in Virginia and across the country. The irony that Northam that participated in racially degrading behaviors — such as wearing blackface for a Michael Jackson impersonation and including the nickname “coonman” in his Virginia Military Institute yearbook — is not lost on Virginians. While the identities of the figures dressed in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan robe that appeared in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page remain uncertain — with the governor admitting to being in the photo then reversing his statement — his proven behavior has shown a pattern that should concern all of us. Northam politicized race in his campaign against Gillespie and attempted to portray his opponent’s tough stance on crime as unconscionable, which seems ironic after the governor’s own record has come to light.

Before the allegations against Fairfax surfaced, many Democratic politicians called for Northam to resign and allow the lieutenant governor to assume the position. A certain justice would have been achieved if Fairfax, an African-American, replaced a governor with a racist history. However, the accusations against the lieutenant governor have quelled calls for Northam’s resignation. With Fairfax’s staff abandoning him and his accusers willing to testify, his political career is almost certainly over. 

Herring — a University alumnus — condemned Northam’s use of blackface and called for his resignation. According to the standard he set for Northam, he too should resign. Both Herring and Northam used the racially demeaning and intimidating costume in the 1980s — long after such displays were acceptable, even in the South. Herring’s determination not to relinquish power reveals another inconsistency with Democratic leadership and further diminishes the administration's authority to lead. 

Nevertheless, the firestorm of scandal affecting all three of Virginia’s top Democrats may act as their safeguard — revealing the hypocrisy plaguing party leadership. The third in line for the governorship is Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox (R). While the Democratic administration of Virginia has lost the moral authority to lead, the thought of entrusting the fortunes of the Commonwealth to Cox has Democratic leaders tempering their calls for changes in leadership. Democrats who voiced their opposition to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court have been more generous to their fellow party member Lt. Gov. Fairfax in their assessment of the allegations against him. These include Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

Not only have Northam’s and Fairfax’s past actions called their ability to administer the Commonwealth into question, but their management of their respective crises has also revealed flaws in their leadership. Northam’s press conference in response to his racist past showed he did not fully grasp the gravity of the situation, and his “reconciliation efforts” accomplish little more than pandering to politically-correct progressive doctrine while further embroiling the governor in criticism. His description of African slaves brought to Virginia as “indentured servants” added yet another misstep to Northam’s campaign to salvage his political career. Meanwhile, multiple reports of Fairfax’s expletive-ridden condemnation of his accuser Vanessa Tyson reveals his contempt towards women coming forward against powerful men. 

Virginians have the opportunity to remedy this failure of leadership in November. The consequences of the upcoming elections will affect redistricting and the direction of the Commonwealth for the next decade. However, the issues Virginians have confronted over the past few weeks breach the partisan divide. Regardless of party leanings and affiliations, Virginians must not compromise in entrusting the leadership of the Commonwealth with men and women of character. 

Thomas Ferguson is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at t.ferguson@cavalierdaily.com.

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