DRISCOLL: Virginia’s Democrats must place principle before politics

The double-standard which the Virginia Democratic Party has applied to Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax in light of two recent sexual assault allegations is unacceptable

66273090-c5cc-4ed6-80cb-a54f4e2b4ea1-original

The Virginia General Assembly’s 2019 Legislative Session officially came to a close on Feb. 24 without any formal measures being taken to investigate Fairfax or conduct a hearing. 

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

Over the past month, Virginia’s state government has gone through what one can only describe as an unadulterated dumpster fire whose proportions, ramifications and publicity far exceed that of any other previous political scandal in the Commonwealth’s history. All three of Virginia’s top elected officials — Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring — have each become embroiled in a series of separate controversies which strike at the very heart of many of today’s most complex and sensitive social issues. In short, these scandals have profoundly embarrassed the Commonwealth and undermined the confidence of its electorate.

While it would be unfair to not at least acknowledge the Virginia Democratic Party’s swift response to the blackface scandal surrounding Northam, its response to the two separate sexual assault allegations facing Fairfax has been anything but commendable. Specifically, while all three men are accused of committing actions which have violated the trust of the electorate, the allegations surrounding Fairfax are especially egregious as sexual assault blatantly deprives an individual of their inherent right to consent to such actions, and, in many cases, inflicting years of physical and emotional trauma. For these reasons and more, the lack of public scrutiny and an adequate response by lawmakers is all the more abominable. 

Currently, under the stringent language of Virginia’s Constitution, Fairfax is the only statewide official who faces a realistic threat of impeachment and removal from office by the General Assembly. Unlike the scandals involving Northam and Herring, Fairfax faces allegations which are criminal in nature and thus punishable by law. Specifically, if prosecutors are able to find sufficient evidence to corroborate the claims of either of his two accusers — Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson — then Fairfax could be charged as the statute of limitations for sexual assault has yet to pass in either of the two states where these crimes allegedly occurred — North Carolina in 2000 and Massachusetts in 2004. This fact alone underscores the gravity of these allegations as well as the need for appropriate action to be taken by lawmakers in Richmond.

As of right now, the most vocal calls for action have largely been concentrated in Washington, with Virginia’s entire congressional delegation, including Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine, calling for Fairfax to step down. Similar calls have also been made by numerous national figures on both sides of the political aisle, including virtually every major 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. And yet, in spite of this, the Virginia General Assembly’s 2019 Legislative Session officially came to a close on Feb. 24 without any formal measures being taken to investigate the matter or conduct a hearing. Although Republicans narrowly hold a majority in both houses of the General Assembly, the pervasive lack of interest amongst Democrats to address these credible allegations is upsetting to say the least.

Moreover, this entire controversy is only further complicated by the fact that Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) was revealed to have had advanced knowledge regarding one of these accusations, choosing to remain silent on the topic rather than bring it to light and possibly suffer the political ramifications. Ultimately, Scott’s actions, in particular, bring to light an increasingly important question — should politics or principle come first?

Over the past two years, the #MeToo Movement has inspired countless women to come forward about their past experiences with sexual assault and harassment in the hopes of sparking public dialogue and holding accountable those who have perpetuated such a toxic culture. Throughout all of this, the Democratic Party has increasingly sought to define itself as a beacon of social progress, with its platform explicitly embracing sexual assault victims and survivors alike, as was clearly evidenced in 2018 during the confirmation process of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

In contrast, however, a double-standard has been applied to Fairfax. On Feb. 8, Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) announced his intention to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax. However, three days later, this call was rescinded after party leaders pressured Hope retract his motion, promising him that an independent investigation would be conducted. Nearly a month later, with the legislative session now officially over and the level of media scrutiny beginning to wane, the likelihood that there will actually be any further action or investigation into the matter seems more and more improbable with each and every passing day.

While the Democratic Party has yet to formally rescind its call for Fairfx’s resignation, the lackadaisical response amongst lawmakers and the growing sense of complacency with the status quo have indicated that inaction at this point is far more likely than action itself. Fairfax is certainly entitled to, and should be provided with, due process on this matter. However, on the same accord, so too should the voices of his accusers be heard. Ultimately, if Virginia’s Democratic elected officials fail to live up to the same values which they espouse and afford a double standard to those who wield power, then they should expect to lose the confidence of the electorate come November. 

Thomas Driscoll is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

related stories