Virginia faces a controversy crisis

Three state offices face separate allegations of blackface and sexual assault

Photo courtesy of VCU Captial News Service on Flickr | Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is accused of wearing blackface in a photo from a page his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook that bears his name. Northam has denied that incident but admitted to another one.

Some of the most prominent, powerful lawmakers in the Commonwealth of Virginia are being asked to step down after recent controversies.

The scene started with HB 2491, which was introduced earlier this year by Kathy Tran, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Tran was questioned about the bill by fellow delegate Todd Gilbert, a Republican.

Gilbert asked, “How late in the third trimester could a physician perform an abortion if he indicated it would impair the mental health of the woman?” to which Tran responded, “Through the third trimester – the third trimester goes all the way up to 40 weeks.”

Gilbert then asked, “Where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth, would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was so certified? She’s dilating.”

“My bill would allow that,” Tran said.

On February 1, after a photo emerged from Governor Ralph Northam’s page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page, which depicting one student in a KKK uniform and another dressed in blackface, Gov. Northam was asked to resign as Governor of Virginia.

In an interview with CBS’ Gayle King, Northam then referred to slaves as “indentured servants.” He says he has no plans to step down from his post.

Governor Northam indicated that he did depict himself in blackface during a medical school dance contest, where he pretended to be Michael Jackson. It is unclear whether the picture from his yearbook and the dance contest were from the same event.

Only hours later, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia Justin Fairfax was accused of sexual assault. Fairfax has called for “due process” in both of the allegations against him.

Both accusers, Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, have expressed desire to cooperate and willingness to testify in any impeachment proceedings, according to CNN. While Northam has not resigned as Governor, he has acknowledged that Fairfax should resign “if the allegations are true.”

Former Virginia Governor Terry McCauliffe, Senators Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Tim Kaine; Democratic Presidential candidates Julián Castro, Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper; The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus; Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox; Rep. Donald McEachin; and Democratic Party of Virginia Chair Susan Swecker have all called on Fairfax to resign.

Last week, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, the third-highest ranking Democrat in the state, admitted he had worn blackface as a 19-year-old to a party in the 1980s.

Other legislators are interested in letting the events play out. State Senator J. Chapman Petersen, a Northern Virginia Democrat, told the New York Times, “I feel like I’m living in an episode of a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel where people are rushing to judgment, and it feels like if I don’t proclaim judgment right away, it somehow reflects on me.” He added, “I think we need to slow down.”

Olivia Clark, a junior from Roanoke, Va, expressed disappointment in the situation saying, “The current political environment in the country, especially in Virginia is chaotic and unfair. If Northam steps down because of the blackface picture that was taken in the 80s that resurfaced, two other Democratic successors would most likely step down.” She added “Anyone could find dirt on someone and destroy someone’s top job as a government official that they’ve worked their entire life for. I would hate to be anyone running for an important office in this day in age.”

By: Michael Rauber | Staff Writer