Ralph Northam administration: Politics over core values

February 20, 2019

When news broke in early February that Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D-VA) med school yearbook featured a photo of two men in racist garb — one in blackface, the other in full Klan robes — this reporter shook his head, but certainly wasn’t surprised.

For those of us who haven’t turned on cable news since the first of the month, Northam is facing rightful backlash after the photograph, dating back to 1984, surfaced on a conservative news site just days after his comments on partial-birth abortions caused controversy.

His response to the ordeal? Depends when you asked him. First, he profusely apologized, only to reverse course a day later and insist that, although the photo was “disgusting, racist, [and] offensive,” he was not one of the men pictured.

So far, nearly all major Democratic presidential candidates, the Senate delegation from the Commonwealth of Virginia, former V.P. Joe Biden (D-DE) and the Commonwealth’s Black Caucus have all called on Northam to resign. He has refused to do so.

Next came a crisis of his own for Ltn. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D-VA). A woman claimed that Fairfax sexually assaulted her during his tenure as John Edwards’ body man at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004. Fairfax claimed the encounter was consensual.

A little under a week later, the state’s Attorney General, Mark Herring (D-VA) admitted that he, too, had darkened his face and worn a wig to impersonate a black person during the 1980s.

Many were stunned by such an overt display of racism from members of the Democratic Party, whose message of inclusiveness and fierce pushback against President Trump have signaled to all that there is no place for racism within the party.

Why, then, if the party prides itself on believing all women and having no place for racism, will not one of the three embattled members of Virginia’s government resign?

The calls made by numerous members of both major parties for all three to resign are warranted and should be heeded. Northam, Fairfax and Herring have to go if the party wants any credibility on the issues of race and sexual assault. But none of us should hold our breath on this one, because at the end of the day, politics always wins.

Why, then, if the party prides itself on believing all women and having no place for racism, will not one of the three embattled members of Virginia’s government resign? 

It comes down to order of succession. If Northam were to resign, Fairfax would become governor and the President Pro Tempore of the Virginia State Senate, Steve Newman (R-VA) would become acting lieutenant governor; the same would happen if Fairfax resigned. If Herring resigned, the Republican-led legislature would name a new attorney general. 

Things get a little dicey when the possibility of multiple resignations is in play. If both Northam and Fairfax resign, Herring becomes governor and Newman becomes lieutenant governor, with a new attorney general named by the state legislature. If Northam and Herring resign, Fairfax becomes governor, Newman becomes lieutenant governor and a new attorney general is named by the legislature. If all three resign, Kirk Cox (R-VA), Speaker of the House of Delegates, becomes governor, Newman becomes lieutenant governor, and the Republican-led legislature appoints a new attorney general.

As you can see, in all cases, a resignation advances a Republican to one of the top three offices in the state. Democrats worked hard to win in Virginia in 2017, raising almost $37 million for Northam’s race alone. He was endorsed by major party figures such as former President Barack Obama (D-IL), Biden, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Keith Ellison, the head of the Democratic National Committee. This was considered a crucial race in a “purple state” — a state that swings from red to blue and back quite often.

When Donald Trump or any Republican official makes a racist statement or takes a racist action, the left is always rightfully swift in their condemnation. Even with one of their own, they’ve been pretty quick to strike. Voters have also, for the large part, had little tolerance for racism on both sides of the aisle. But for the higher-ups in the party? Forget it. All you’re going to get is lip service.

What this comes down to is political chess. Democrats in Virginia know that if any of their office holders resign, a Republican is more than likely to take their seat. And if you truly believe that members of one of the two most corrupt political parties in the United States care more about ethics and consistency than holding onto power, you don’t understand politics.

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