Thomas Gallatin / Feb. 11, 2019

Northam Stays Put While Fairfax Is Likely Out

The governor says he's not going anywhere, but it appears days are numbered for the lieutenant governor.

Virginia Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam made it clear over the weekend that he’s not going anywhere, continuing to deny now what he initially admitted to — that he was one of the individuals pictured in the infamous racist 1984 yearbook photograph. And it’s looking like Northam’s entrenchment is a calculated decision based upon two factors.

First, the second accusation of sexual assault leveled against Democrat Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax will almost certainly lead to his exit. Politically speaking, multiple accusations is almost always taken as evidence of guilt and in the court of public opinion due process is nonexistent. In another indication that Fairfax is almost certainly done, on Friday he lost the support of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which issued a statement calling for him “to step down from his position.”

Second, a resignation by Northam would have the domino effect of taking out Virginia Democrats’ number three man, Attorney General Mark Herring, due to his admission of having engaged in the same “racist” behavior as Northam. It’s noteworthy and beyond hypocritical that as the governor insists he’ll stay because the state needs someone “who has courage and who has a moral compass” to revive the “level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia,” he also suggests Herring might need to think about stepping down.

That’s a political calculation, too. As we noted last week, should the Democrats choose to stand on their loudly proclaimed principles, they would effectively hand the reins of power in an important purple state over to the Republicans.

Clearly not willing to lose their tenuous hold on an increasingly significant state, especially in light of the 2020 presidential election, Virginia Democrats have decided that maintaining an immediate hold on power is more important than exposing themselves to the political blowback for being hypocrites on one of their biggest “social justice” issues. The fact that Virginia law does not allow its governors to serve consecutive terms may also have played prominently in this calculation, as Northam is essentially a lame-duck. In other words, he can be thrown under the bus by any future Democrat gubernatorial candidate.

The lingering question is, how will Northam and Herring’s decision to remain impact Virginia’s House and Senate elections later this year with Republicans holding a slim majority in each? Could the significant gains Democrats garnered in 2017 evaporate? It appears this is a risk the party is willing to take.

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