RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia's House Democrats have followed the state's Legislative Black Caucus in not calling for resignations of the lieutenant governor or attorney general after insisting the governor must go.
The Democrats' Thursday night statement says they take the issues and allegations facing Virginia's top three elected officials seriously and they'll be taking the pulse of their constituents over the weekend.
The stakes couldn't be higher with Democrats in the governor's mansion but Republicans still controlling the legislature: If Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring all resign, Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox would be in charge.
Virginia's elected Democrats and most of the Democrats hoping to run against President Donald Trump in 2020 swiftly joined calls for Northam to resign after he took responsibility for a photo on his 1984 yearbook page showing one man posing in blackface with another in a Ku Klux Klan costume. Northam then denied it, but said he did smear shoe polish on his face once to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest.
The practice has always been deeply offensive to black people, a point Democrats could make without too much political pain if there were unblemished replacements lined up to replace Northam.
But then a woman came forward saying Fairfax's possible promotion compelled her to publicly accuse him of sexually assaulting her. Fairfax says their encounter 15 years ago was consensual, leaving those who would judge him uncomfortably bereft of conclusive evidence.
Herring, meanwhile, also acknowledged wearing blackface once at a party in college, leaving all three struggling to hold onto their political support in a climate where Democrats are insisting on the highest moral standards as a counterpoint to Trump's behavior.
"Much of the discussion has, rightfully, centered around who we are as Democrats as we continue to stand against racism and against sexual assault. We respect all survivors and believe they should be fully heard," the House Democrats' statement says. "However, this is not a partisan problem, but a problem for all Virginians and all Americans."
Virginia's two U.S. senators and seven Democratic congressmen released a joint statement saying the sexual assault accusation must be investigated, and Herring must continue to have "in-depth discussions" if he is to regain the public's trust. The black caucus also called for an investigation of the Fairfax case, and said the attorney general must take more actions to "reassure" the state he is fit to lead.