Political support for Virginia lieutenant governor collapses, with impeachment threat on the table
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s political problems have gone from bad to worse after a second woman stepped forward Friday to accuse him of sexual assault, with his political support in free fall as his fellow Democrats desert him.
Fairfax is now calling for an FBI investigation into claims of sexual assault made by Meredith Watson, who says he raped her in 2000, and Vanessa Tyson, who says he forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004.
In a statement issued Saturday, he acknowledged having consensual sexual encounters with both women but urged Virginians not to “rush to judgment” before the claims are investigated.
“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” he said in a statement released late Saturday. “Our American values don’t just work when it’s convenient — they must be applied at the most difficult of times.”
But Fairfax is facing momentum growing against him, including a call for his resignation by the Democratic Party of Virgina, which put out a statement on Twitter calling the sexual assault allegations “credible” and saying the lieutenant governor “no longer has our confidence or support.”
Fairfax — the only African American holding statewide office — has even lost the support of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who said in a statement that “we can’t see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Lieutenant Governor to remain in his role.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington said he will introduce articles of impeachment to remove Fairfax if he does not step down by Monday.
“As the father of three young girls, I cannot stand by silently while the lieutenant governor is facing multiple, credible allegations of sexual assault,” Hope told reporters at a news conference Friday night. “My sincere hope is that this will not be necessary and the lieutenant governor will heed the calls of many to resign this weekend.”
The latest allegations are a stunning reversal in the political fortunes of Fairfax, who just a week ago was poised to take over as governor with Governor Ralph Northam under pressure to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page.
Should Fairfax resign, Northam — or whoever is sitting in the governor’s chair — will pick a replacement, with an election in November to fill the final two years of Fairfax’s term. Impeachment would be a decision for the Republican-controlled legislature.
In a statement released Friday, lawyers for Watson alleged that Fairfax raped her in 2000, when they were both students at Duke University. The statement did not give details of the attack but described it as “premeditated and aggressive.”
Her attorneys also indicated that she has emails and Facebook posts that document that she told other people about the attack right after it happened. She decided to come forward after learning of a claim made earlier in the week by Tyson, a California college professor who said Fairfax sexually assaulted her during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, according to her attorneys.
“Ms. Watson was upset to learn that Mr. Fairfax raped at least one other woman after he attacked her,” the statement said. “(She) is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character. She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life.”
Democratic leaders largely stood by Fairfax after Tyson’s allegation. But the dam burst once Watson came forward, imperiling the political future of a man who had been seen as a rising star in Democratic politics.
“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible,” McAuliffe said on Twitter. “It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia.”
“The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the Commonwealth,” Kaine tweeted. “We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault.”
Virginia’s other Democratic U.S. senator, Mark Warner, and the dean of its U.S. House delegation, Democrat Bobby Scott, both stopped short of calling for Fairfax’s immediate resignation, although they said he should resign if the charges are substantiated.
Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates also called for Fairfax to resign, including Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and both African Americans in the race, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
“The allegations … are corroborated, painful stories of sexual assault and rape. It’s clear Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax should resign his office,” Harris said on Twitter.
The new allegations against Fairfax cap a week of turmoil in the Old Dominion, with all three top statewide Democratic elected officials enmeshed in controversy, a little over a year after they were swept into office in a Democratic wave
The turmoil began when Big League Politics, a conservative website, published a photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page showing a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
After first appearing to concede that he was in the photo and apologize, Northam then said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the photo.
But after apologizing for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he compounded his problems by admitting that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.
In his first interview since the scandal broke, with the Washington Post, Northam said he will not resign and would spend the remaining three years of his term working for racial reconciliation in the commonwealth. He also said he “overreacted” in quickly issued his initial apology that he later walked back.
Adding to the meltdown in Richmond was an admission by Attorney General Mark Herring that he wore blackface while impersonating a rapper when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.
However, Democratic leaders have so far not bailed on Herring, which prompted the Republican Party of Virginia to accuse them of hypocrisy and giving the attorney general “a hall pass.”
“What is the difference between Governor Northam’s blackface and AG Herring’s?” said Jack Wilson, state GOP chairman, in a statement. “If there is no difference, shouldn’t Democrats call for both to resign?”
Wilson said Democrats were protecting Herring to maintain “their stranglehold” on state government. If Northam, Fairfax and Herring were to all depart, House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.
However, that would only be possible if Northam left first. If he were still governor when Fairfax resigned, he could pick a replacement who would supplant Cox in the line of gubernatorial succession.
If Herring resigns, the legislature would pick his replacement if lawmakers in session; if not, then Northam would pick a replacement who would serve until the legislature reconvenes.
The current legislative session is scheduled to end on February 23.