The hits just keep on coming for Virginia Democrats, so much so that the top tier of the state’s leadership appears on the verge of having to resign in disgrace, handing control of the state over to Republicans.
First, Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam shocked the nation with disgustingly calloused remarks about post-birth abortions, only to be followed days later by the revelation of a racist photograph on his medical yearbook page, which featured him either dressed in blackface or a KKK hood. Northam has denied being in that particular photo, but has admitted to dressing in blackface as pop singer Michael Jackson on a separate occasion.
Then Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was hit with a #MeToo scandal of his own just days after that, as a woman in California has come forward to claim that he sexually assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Fairfax has denied the allegation, but admitted to having had a “consensual” sexual relationship with the woman.
If both Northam and Fairfax succumbed to the growing bipartisan demands that they step down from their offices, the line of succession in Virginia would elevate Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring to the governor’s mansion. However, he has now become embroiled in controversy as well.
In a statement released following an emergency meeting with the state’s legislative black caucus, the 57-year-old Herring said, “In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song.”
“It sounds ridiculous even now writing it,” he continued. “But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes — and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others — we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.”
“This was a onetime occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct,” Herring said.
“That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt,” he added. “No matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation.”
All three Democratic officials have thus far resisted calls to resign their offices, but were all three to do so, the Washington Examinerreported separately that the line of succession for Virginia’s governorship would fall to the third official in line: Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox.
As per Article 5, Section 16 of the Virginia state constitution, the line of succession is laid out as descending from the governor to lieutenant governor to attorney general to the speaker of the House.
“If the Attorney General is ineligible to serve as Governor, the Speaker of the House of Delegates, if he is eligible to serve as Governor, shall succeed to the office of Governor for the unexpired term or serve as Acting Governor,” states Virginia’s constitution.
In the unlikely event that even the House Speaker would be unable to serve as governor, the House of Delegates would have to come together and pick someone to fill the vacancy. Should even that prove impossible, by virtue of some emergency or foreign invasion, the line of succession is extended to whoever the speaker may nominate in his own place, the state Senate pro tempore and the House majority leader, in that order.
The governorship was likely the furthest thing from Cox’s mind when he was first chosen as speaker in early 2018, which came as a result of a coin-flip tie-breaker that gave control of the House to Republicans following the close 2017 elections.
Cox was described by the Washington Examiner as a moderate conservative Republican who has served in the House of Delegates since 1990, rose to the level of majority whip and ultimately became the majority leader from 2010-2018, prior to assuming the speakership.
It remains to be seen how these three concurrent scandals will play out over the next several days and weeks, and while neither Northam or Fairfax or Herring have signaled that they intend to resign anytime soon, the public pressure is building and that decision may ultimately be made for them … resulting in a Republican emerging once the dust settles as the acting governor of a Democrat-controlled state in turmoil.