Pos­si­ble im­peach­ment could fur­ther up­end Va. pol­i­tics

Prospect looms as of­fi­cials strug­gle with al­le­ga­tions of racism, sex­ual as­sault

Tulsa World - - Datelines - By Alan Suderman

RICH­MOND, Va. — Vir­ginia law­mak­ers on Mon­day will re­luc­tantly face the un­prece­dented prospect of im­peach­ing the state's sec­ond most pow­er­ful leader as they strug­gle to ad­dress rev­e­la­tions of past racist be­hav­ior and al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault roil­ing its high­est lev­els of of­fice.

At least one law­maker said he will try to pur­sue im­peach­ment of Demo­cratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fair­fax af­ter two women ac­cused Fair­fax of sex­ual as­sault in the 2000s, a move that ex­perts be­lieve would be a first in Vir­ginia. Fair­fax has ve­he­mently de­nied the claims and called for au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing the FBI, to in­ves­ti­gate.

There's lit­tle sign of broad ap­petite for im­peach­ment, with law­mak­ers set to fin­ish this year's ses­sion by the month's end. But the Leg­is­la­ture is swirling with ques­tions about lines of suc­ces­sion and the po­lit­i­cal fall­out for Democrats should the gover­nor, lieu­tenant gover­nor or at­tor­ney gen­eral leave of­fice, will­ingly or not.

Gov. Ralph Northam and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring, both Democrats, are em­broiled in their own scan­dal af­ter ac­knowl­edg­ing they wore black­face in the 1980s. Northam, a pe­di­atric neu­rol­o­gist, said Sun­day that he con­sid­ered re­sign­ing but that he's “not go­ing any­where” be­cause the state “needs some­one that can heal” it.

Northam said on CBS' “Face the Na­tion” that it's been a dif­fi­cult week since a racist photo in his 1984 med­i­cal school year­book sur­faced, show­ing a per­son wear­ing black­face next to an­other per­son in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Northam ini­tially said he was in the photo, then de­nied it the next day, while ac­knowl­edg­ing that he did wear black­face to a dance party that same year.

“Vir­ginia needs some­one that can heal. There's no bet­ter per­son to do that than a doc­tor,” Northam said. “Vir­ginia also needs some­one who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral com­pass. And that's why I'm not go­ing any­where.”

The scan­dals have be­come a full-blown cri­sis for Vir­ginia Democrats. Although the party has taken an al­most zero-tol­er­ance ap­proach to sex­ual mis­con­duct in the #MeToo era, a house­clean­ing in Vir­ginia could be costly: If all three Democrats re­signed, Repub­li­can state House Speaker Kirk Cox would be­come gover­nor.

Vir­ginia is among a hand­ful of states elect­ing law­mak­ers this year, and Democrats had hoped to flip the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

Demo­cratic Del. Pa­trick Hope said he wants to in­tro­duce ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment Mon­day against Fair­fax, who is black.

Some ob­servers said it's pos­si­ble im­peach­ment would move for­ward in the House of Del­e­gates — even if the thresh­old to start the process is re­mark­ably high. How­ever, law­mak­ers are set to leave town be­fore Fe­bru­ary ends and may lack the time and re­sources to im­me­di­ately take on the com­pli­cated is­sue.

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