Controversy Envelopes the Virginia Government

Ben Nichols, staff writer

Turmoil continues to plague the Virginia state government as many high-ranking political figures were accused of racism and sexual assault throughout Feb. [spell out].


The entire event began when Governor Ralph Northam was reported to have a photo containing two people dressed in racist outfits posted on his page in his medical school’s yearbook. Although initially apologizing for appearing in the photo, Northam later retracted it and stated that he would try to find out who was in it.


A few days after, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax began to deny allegations of sexual assault between him and Dr. Vanessa Tyson from years ago. The Washington Post had allegedly investigated this scandal years ago, but did not report on it.


In the wake of these scandals, Attorney General Mark Herring also confessed his own incident of dressing in blackface at a young age, despite calling for Northam’s resignation himself. According to Herring, he had attended a party dressed like his favorite rapper, which included blackface.


Governor Northam has remained largely out of public view, including reportedly taking tunnels at the state capitol to stay away from the controversy. Northam also held several meetings with key figures [expand on this]


However, on Feb. 28, CNN reported that Virginia First Lady Pam Northam allegedly handed out pieces of cotton to black pages during a slave cottage tour, and asked them to “imagine being slaves in the field and picking cotton all day.” Leah Dozier Walker, the director of the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at the Virginia Department of Education, called the behavior tone deaf.


“The Governor and Mrs. Northam have asked the residents of the Commonwealth to forgive them for their racially insensitive past actions,” Walker wrote. “But the actions of Mrs. Northam, just last week, do not lead me to believe that this Governor’s office has taken seriously the harm and hurt they have caused African-Americans in Virginia or that they are deserving of our forgiveness.”


Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax was also soon accused by a second woman, Meredith Watson. The two were students at Duke University, where the alleged incident occurred. Several Duke students corroborated her report. This prompted more calls for resignation, including ones from U.S. Representative Jennifer Wexton and Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall.


“I believe Dr. Vanessa Tyson,” Wexton tweeted. “I believe Meredith Watson. And I believe Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax must resign.”


The entire incident unfolded after a controversial bill regarding late-term abortions was supported by Governor Northam. While some have suggested that the scandal was released as a result of the abortion bill, no evidence has surfaced proving the theory. Republican Speaker of the House for Virginia, Kirk Cox, would be next in line for governor if all three men were removed or resigned, according to the Washington Post.


Governor Northam’s resistance to resigning has reportedly weakened his party’s platform. Democrats worry that the scandal in Virginia will contribute to an unfavorable opinion of Democrats across the nation, reversing the gains they made in the 2018 midterm elections and potentially impacting the 2020 presidential elections.


In a speech to Virginia lawmakers following the revelation that the accusers would be willing to testify publicly, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax compared himself to lynching victims.


“I have heard much about anti-lynching on the floor of this very Senate, where people are not given any due process whatsoever, and we rue that,” Lieutenant Governor Fairfax said to the New York Times.  “And yet we stand here in a rush to judgment in nothing but accusations and no facts, and we are deciding we are willing to do the same thing.”


Even more issues arose as it was reported that Madison’s Trust Elementary School in Ashburn provided their students with a game that came across as racist to many members of the community. The game involved children pretending to be slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad, and prompted calls from the Loudoun NAACP chapter for changes from LCPS.


All three men have remained committed to staying in office, despite the immense backlash and pressure they have faced to resign. Although coverage in the media has died down significantly, new things such as the lynching comments continue the discussion over the state government’s leaders and their ability to effectively run it.