Virginia governor vows not to resign over racist incident

RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) – Virginia’s embattled Democratic governor vowed in an interview on Monday not to resign over revelations that he wore blackface at a 1980s party, as a web of scandals enveloped three top party officials.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, accompanied by his wife Pamela Northam announces he will not resign during a news conference Richmond, Virginia, U.S. February 2, 2019. REUTERS/ Jay Paul

A Democratic state lawmaker, meanwhile, said on Twitter that he would not move immediately on his call over the weekend for impeachment proceedings against Virginia’s lieutenant governor, who has been accused of sexually assaulting two women, charges he has denied.

The accusations of racist behavior or sexual assault – hot button issues in a party that has embraced diversity as one of its key messages – targeting the three men have rattled party leadership in a swing state that likely will play a pivotal role in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

In the unlikely event all three men were to step down, the governorship would pass to the Republican speaker of the state house, which would be a stunning reversal in a state where Democrats have been gaining power in the last few election cycles.

Party leaders in the state and across the nation have now called for Governor Ralph Northam and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax over their separate accusations. They have been more forgiving of Attorney General Mark Herring, largely because he came forward on his own to admit having performed in blackface at a 1980 college party, rather than waiting for someone else to accuse him.

Northam and Herring are white; Fairfax is black.

The Democratic state lawmaker said he might ask the state house to begin discussing impeaching Fairfax if he did not resign signaled on Monday he was in no rush to act.

“Yesterday I sent draft language to my colleagues on the first step of an impeachment action regarding the Lt. Governor,” state Delegate Patrick Hope said on Twitter. “There has been an enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback which has led to additional conversations that need to take place before anything is filed.”

In a series of tweets he said that he believed Fairfax’s two accusers but wanted lawmakers to “build more consensus on a path forward.”

Northam, meanwhile, insisted in an interview on CBS Monday, that he would not resign over the 1984 yearbook picture, which showed a person in blackface next to another wearing the robes and hood of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. Northam denied being in that picture but admitted to dressing in blackface for a social event that same year.

Blackface traces its history to 19th-century “minstrel” shows that mocked African-Americans and is seen as offensive by many Americans.

Northam said that Fairfax would have to step aside if sexual assault allegations against him were found to be true.

“And if these accusations are determined to be true, I don’t think he’s going to have any other option but to resign,” Northam said.

Fairfax has said that encounters with both women were consensual. On Sunday, a spokeswoman for the lieutenant governor said he was “aggressively exploring options for a thorough, independent, and impartial investigation” of the allegations.

Reporting by Gary Robertson; editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky

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