Fri, Feb 08, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Democrats muffle calls for Virginia resignations

POWER SHIFT:If all three Democratic officials, including the governor, quit over race and sex assault allegations, Republicans would take over the state’s top offices

AP, RICHMOND, Virginia

Then-Virginia governor-elect Ralph Northam, center, walks down the reviewing stand with lieutenant governor-elect Justin Fairfax, right, and Attorney General Mark Herring at the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, on Jan. 12 last year.

Photo: AP

Prominent Democrats came down hard on Virginia Governor Ralph Northam after he apologized for a racist photo — but they were quieter as two more scandals — one involving race, another a sexual assault allegation — rocked Virginia’s statehouse.

The subdued response from national Democrats shows how their zero-tolerance approach has put them in a bind. The party has prided itself on policing its own and hoped to contrast that record with the Republicans’ tolerance of misbehavior by US President Donald Trump.

Now the party will have to decide whether to stick with its principles or retain its political power.

“The party’s put in an odd position,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist who, like much of the political world, watched Virginia’s developments with astonishment on Wednesday. “Let’s say they live by their standards and clean house. The stakes are very real now, because the line of succession goes through the other side.”

On Friday last week, a picture of a man in blackface on Northam’s medical school yearbook page surfaced. During a press conference on Saturday, Northam insisted he was not in the yearbook photo, but said he had once worn blackface.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said: “It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth.”

On Wednesday, the Democrat who would succeed Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, reeled from a detailed statement released by a woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her 15 years ago.

Later on Wednesday, Herring, the Democrat who would succeed Fairfax, admitted he had worn blackface while in college.

If all three Democrats stepped down, Republicans would take over the state’s top offices. The Republican speaker of the House of Delegates, Kirk Cox, is in line to become governor, and the Republican-controlled House would select a new attorney general. That is a different dynamic from recent efforts by Democrats to clean house.

In 2017, the party pushed then-US senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, to resign after several women accused him of sexual harassment, but he was replaced by a Democrat.

When interparty fury rained down on Northam after the photo came to light on Friday, it seemed likely he would be replaced by Fairfax.

“The cost for Democrats of getting rid of the office holder are really low,” Seth Masket, a University of Denver political scientist, said of the Northam and Franken scandals earlier this week.

“The real test” would be a scenario in which Republicans could gain a key political office, he added.

Democrats did not seem to pass that test on Wednesday. No Democratic presidential contender issued any statement calling for the resignations of Herring or Fairfax, whose accuser, Vanessa Tyson, is represented by the same law firm that represented then-Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is exploring a Democratic presidential bid, told NBC: “I don’t know that this is a set of decisions we can automate because each of these cases brings different elements to it.”

US Senator Cory Booker told reporters at the Capitol that “it takes tremendous courage for someone to come forward in the way that she did. This is a deeply disturbing allegation that should be thoroughly investigated.”

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