Across Virginia

(Associated Press) — The denunciations began within hours of the disclosure that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page featured a person in blackface standing next to a person in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Democratic activists and presidential contenders quickly called for his resignation. By the time the Democratic governor held a press conference to defend himself, both the national and state party had also demanded he leave.

Northam has refused to step down so far — he says he’s not in the photo. But the pressure he faces highlights his party’s insistence on policing its own when it comes to wrongdoing related to race and, in some cases, sexual misconduct. As the Republican Party has frequently shied away from disciplining or expelling its own members, Democrats have largely embraced a hard line.

That stance allows Democrats to draw a stark contrast with President Donald Trump and other Republicans who have made racist or sexist remarks. It’s also a response to the demands of an increasingly diverse Democratic Party whose staunchest supporters are African-Americans and women, whose last president was a black man and who has two black people, one Latino and several women running for president.

“We can’t call out Donald Trump, we can’t call out Steve King, if we’re not walking the talk,” said Karine Jean-Pierre of MoveOn, a group founded in the late ’90s to fight impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton over his affair with a White House intern.

The contrast with King, an Iowa Republican congressman, is one Democrats are eager to make. King had a long history of controversial rhetoric about immigrants, but it wasn’t until he defended white supremacy in an interview with The New York Times last month that Republicans in Congress moved to strip him of committee assignments and called for his resignation.

Looming even larger is Trump, who fanned the racist conspiracy that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, said a federal judge couldn’t rule on a lawsuit against him because he was “Mexican,” has been accused of sexual wrongdoing by 19 women and reportedly used a profanity to describe countries that send black immigrants to the U.S.

When it comes to Trump, a 72-year-old white New York billionaire, contrast is everything for Democrats. On Tuesday, they’ll answer his State of the Union address with a response from Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, a 45-year-old who narrowly lost her bid last year to become America’s first black female governor. They’ll invite guests who represent key Democratic agenda items — climate and the environment, immigration, LBGTQ rights, the plight of federal workers — to watch from the gallery.

The distinction from Trump is especially crucial for Democratic presidential contenders. All the declared candidates — and most of those eyeing a campaign — called on Northam to resign. There have been precious few Northam defenders, but a handful argue he is being prejudged. Former Virginia Rep. Jim Moran decried “a rush to judgment” on CNN on Monday, while former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman told the cable network that Northam “has a chance to prove what is his essence, not to rush him out of office for what is, unfortunately, political reasons.”

Some Democrats bristle at the notion that politics played any role in the revulsion at Northam. “Booting electeds from office who have worn blackface is not about purity,” said Rebecca Katz, a Democratic strategist. “It’s about what’s right.”

The last prominent elected Democrat pushed out of office by his own party was Al Franken, the Minnesota senator who resigned after weeks of internal pressure over sexual harassment allegations in 2017. The Franken departure came as Democrats were still smarting over Trump’s election in the face of numerous sexual harassment and assault allegations. He was replaced in the Senate by another Democrat, Tina Smith, who was overwhelmingly re-elected in November.

Similarly, Democrats lose nothing by jettisoning Northam because they’d maintain control of the governor’s mansion: The next in line is Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

But the Virginia turmoil also illustrated the complications of the zero-tolerance approach.

Fairfax on Monday strongly denied allegations of sexual assault that were initially circulated on a conservative website, calling it a “smear.”

The woman accusing Fairfax has retained Washington, D.C., law firm Katz Marshall & Banks and is consulting with the firm about next steps, said a person close to the legal team who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. One of the firm’s founding partners, Debra Katz, represented Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her decades ago when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh denied the allegation and later was confirmed to the court.

The Associated Press is not reporting details of the Fairfax allegation because the AP has not confirmed it.

If Northam were to resign and Fairfax were not in position to assume the office, the governorship would go to the Democratic attorney general, a set of dominoes that has unleashed chaos in Virginia’s capital.

Democratic presidential aspirants were notably silent on Fairfax. The party also stood with Keith Ellison as the then-congressman successfully ran for Minnesota attorney general last year despite allegations that he had abused an ex-girlfriend. Ellison also strongly denied those accusations.

In a sign of the crosscurrents Democrats are navigating, multiple liberals asked not to be quoted when discussing the contrast because they were skeptical of the allegations but did not want to be seen as disbelieving people who reported sexual misbehavior.

Sexual harassment allegations have also rattled the potential presidential field. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is mulling a second presidential run, apologized to staffers for sexual harassment allegedly committed by workers on his 2016 presidential campaign. On Saturday, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, another possible Democratic contender, apologized for not stopping a staffer he fired for sexual harassment from landing a job in the New York mayor’s office.

Still, the Northam case stands out, said Guy Cecil, head of Priorities USA, a major Democratic super PAC and one of the Democrats who immediately called for Northam’s ouster when the yearbook photo first appeared.

“There’s no question that we need to be thoughtful about when we’re approaching these big questions, but I don’t think we’re nearing some sort of tipping point when we say a man who dressed in blackface in the ’80s shouldn’t be governor,” Cecil said.

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Associated Press writer Julie Pace contributed to this story from Washington.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam met quietly on Monday with top administration officials but gave no public signal that he intends to step down despite mounting pressure to resign over a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook. The Democrat was staying out of sight early Monday as he met with his Cabinet and senior staff, following a meeting the previous night with minority officials in his administration.

The meetings come amid nearly unanimous calls from within his own party to resign over the yearbook photo that shows someone in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. He first admitted he was in the picture, and then denied it over the weekend, but also acknowledged putting on blackface to imitate Michael Jackson at a dance contest decades ago.

The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus declared that Northam “still does not understand the seriousness of his actions.” “I think he’s been completely dishonest and disingenuous,” Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ”He knew this picture was there, and he could’ve come clean and talked to African-Americans that he’s close to decades ago.”

The scandal threatens to cripple Northam’s ability to govern. He has lost the support of virtually all of the state’s Democratic establishment. Top Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly also urged Northam to step down, as did many declared and potential Democratic presidential candidates.

Photo: Eastern Virginia Medical School

Virginia governors can be removed for “malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty, or other high crime or misdemeanor” under the state constitution, but top Democrats said they don’t believe it will come to that.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe predicted that Northam — who served as McAuliffe’s lieutenant governor — will eventually leave office.

“Ralph will do the right thing for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Northam apologized on Friday for appearing in the photograph on his yearbook page. He did not say which costume he was wearing, but said he was “deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo.” On Saturday, though, the governor reversed course and said the picture “is definitely not me.”

While talking with reporters, Northam acknowledged he once used shoe polish to put on blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a 1984 dance contest in Texas, when he was in the Army. Northam said he regrets that he didn’t understand “the harmful legacy of an action like that.”

Asked by a reporter if he could still do Jackson’s famous moonwalk, Northam looked at the floor as if thinking about demonstrating it. His wife put a stop to it, telling him, “Inappropriate circumstances.”

His shifting explanations did little or nothing to sway prominent Democrats who had swiftly disowned him.

One of the few voices backing Northam on Sunday was former Virginia Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat who served in Congress from 1991 to 2015.

Moran told ABC’s “This Week” that Northam’s record — including his support of Medicaid expansion and of public schools in minority neighborhoods — shows that the embattled governor is a friend of African-Americans and that he should ride out the storm.

“I think it is a rush to judgment before we know all of the facts and before we’ve considered all of the consequences,” said Moran, who is white. “I don’t think these public shamings really get us all that much.”

But both of Virginia’s U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, joined the dean of Virginia’s congressional delegation, Rep. Bobby Scott, in saying they no longer believe Northam can serve effectively. James Ryan, president of the University of Virginia, said it would be “exceedingly difficult” for Northam to continue serving.

If Northam does resign, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would become the second African-American governor in the state’s history. He stopped short of calling for Northam’s departure but said he “cannot condone actions” from Northam’s past that “suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping and intimidation.”

 

Virginia Tech Political Science Professor Bob Denton says the discovery of Governor Northam’s racist yearbook photo will cause irreparable harm to his image. And Denton wonders how it never surfaced before in the era of sophisticated campaign opposition research. He spoke with WFIR’s Evan Jones:

02-04 Denton-Northam Wrap1-WEB

Denton’s comments were part of a longer conversation in the aftermath of events that began Friday afternoon. Here is the full conversation:

02-04 Denton Longer Listen-WEB

Photo: Eastern Virginia Medical School

 

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam appears to have almost no choice but to resign after losing support from virtually the entire state Democratic party and other key allies, who urged the governor to leave office because of a racist photo in which he appeared more than 30 years ago.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the state House Democratic Caucus and the state Senate Democratic Caucus all called on Northam to resign late Friday, along with several key progressive groups that have been some of the governor’s closest political allies.

Their calls for Northam to step down came in a wave late Friday, after the Democrat had apologized for appearing in a photo in which one person is dressed in blackface and another is wearing a full Ku Klux Klan uniform. The photo appeared in his 1984 medical school yearbook.

Photo: Eastern Virginia Medical School

The yearbook images were first published Friday afternoon by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. The Virginian-Pilot later obtained a copy from Eastern Virginia Medical School, which Northam attended. The photo shows two people looking at the camera — one in blackface wearing a hat, bow tie and plaid pants; the other in a full Ku Klux Klan robe.

An Associated Press reporter saw the yearbook page and confirmed its authenticity at the medical school.

In his first apology, issued in a written statement, Northam called the costume he wore “clearly racist and offensive,” but he didn’t say which one he had worn.

He later issued a video statement saying he was “deeply sorry” but still committed to serving the “remainder of my term.”

“I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” Northam said.

But Northam appears to have virtually no path forward to remain in office without any institutional support. His departure would mean current Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who is only the second African American to win statewide office in Virginia, would be the next governor. Northam’s term was set to end in 2022.

Black lawmakers said they met with Northam Friday evening, and said in a statement they appreciate his service.

“But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as governor,” the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said, “It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing.”

State Sen. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, a close ally of Northam and longtime African-American lawmaker, described a hastily called conference call with black leaders around the state as “intense,” her voice breaking, but did not elaborate.

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls and potential presidential candidates, including former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also called on Northam to resign.

Northam spent years actively courting the black community in the lead up to his 2017 gubernatorial run, building relationships that helped him win both the primary and the general election. He’s a member of a predominantly black church on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where he grew up.

“It’s a matter of relationships and trust. That’s not something that you build overnight,” Northam told the AP during a 2017 campaign stop while describing his relationship with the black community.

Northam, a folksy pediatric neurologist who is personal friends with many GOP lawmakers, has recently come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.

Last week, Florida’s secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.

 

 

Gov. Ralph Northam

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a statement Friday in response to a photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook that shows a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

Here is the full statement:

“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive.

“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.

“This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.

“I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor.”

Photo: Eastern Virginia Medical School

The NAACP is calling on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to resign over a yearbook photo in which he posed either as a person in blackface or a Ku Klux Klan member. NAACP President Derrick Johnson tweeted Friday night that “Black face in any manner is always racist and never okay.” Johnson’s tweet came shortly after Northam apologized for what he called “racist and offensive” costumes portrayed in the photo on a 1984 medical school yearbook page. The governor did not say which of the two costumes he was wearing.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Virginia lawmakers have rejected a plan to add tolls to Interstate 81 to pay for $2 billion in upgrades that would improve safety and traffic flow. Legislators moved Thursday to shelve any immediate plans to add tolls or increase regional taxes to pay for improvements to the 325-mile highway that runs along western Virginia. Lawmakers say they need more time to study potential funding sources, including an increase to the state gas tax. Before the legislative session started, Gov. Ralph Northam and some Republican lawmakers tentatively backed a plan to add tolls that could cost as much as $50 for trucks and $25 for cars to use the entire highway. But business groups and trucking groups strongly opposed tolls, saying it would stifle commerce.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Legislation that could pose a serious threat to the bottom line of Dominion Energy’s planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline continues to advance in the Virginia General Assembly. The bill passed a key House committee Thursday with bipartisan support despite heavy lobbying by Dominion. The legislation would add new restrictions on Dominion’s ability to pass along costs of transporting gas from the ACP to its Virginia-based power stations. That could reduce the potential revenues of a project whose costs have already ballooned in the face of fierce opposition from environmentalists and land owners. Dominion said the legislation is unneeded and regulators can already protect customers from unreasonable costs. The energy company is among the most powerful forces at the General Assembly and rarely sees legislation it dislikes become law.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) – Police departments across Virginia have been outfitted with body cameras whose recordings need review by local prosecutors, many of whom aren’t getting the state funding needed to do so.The Virginian-Pilot reported Sunday that Virginia Beach police are being outfitted with 450 cameras that could require the local commonwealth’s attorney’s office to watch more than 14,000 hours of video.The office says it will need seven additional assistant commonwealth’s attorneys to review the videos for prosecutorial evidence. But the state only pays for so many positions, and it’s been a decade since funding was increased for commonwealth’s attorney’s offices.The city of Virginia Beach has agreed to pay for these new attorneys, but the newspaper says the rest of the state might not devote such resources.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Police in Virginia say that a car struck a transit bus that was stopped for a pickup, injuring a dozen people. The Newport News Police Department issued a release saying the accident happened shortly before 9 a.m. while the Hampton Roads Transit bus was stopped to pick up passengers. A man driving a Chrysler car had apparently hit the stopped bus. Police say 10 passengers and the bus driver were taken to the hospital with injuries that didn’t appear to be life-threatening. So was the driver of the car. The police department’s crash team was investigating and didn’t immediately file charges.