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Virginia Democrats flip both houses of General Assembly from red to blue

Democrats will now have total control of reapportionment after 2020 census

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Democrats have won majorities in the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates for the first time in 24 years, completing a takeover of state government that will give them total control of the reapportionment process after the 2020 census.

Democrats won 21 of the 40 seats in the Senate and 54 of the 100 seats in the House in the November 5 vote.

Coupled with the Democratic sweep of all three statewide offices in 2017 and flipping three U.S. House seats in 2018, Tuesday’s result is the latest evidence that political control Old Dominion has slipped away from the GOP and into Democratic hands.

The two legislative chambers in Virginia will also be the only two under Democratic control anywhere in the South; Republicans control the other 26.

Heading into the election, Republicans held a 21-to-19 majority in the Senate and a 51-to-49 majority in the House. Democrats needed to flip two seats to control the House and one seat to control the Senate, where Democratic Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax holds the tie-breaking vote.

Their gain in the House was five seats, while they picked up two in the Senate.

As they did in 2017 and 2018, Democrats picked up seats in suburbs of Washington, D.C., Richmond and Hampton Roads. Among the casualties was last Republican left representing a district in the inner D.C. suburbs, Delegate Tim Hugo from Fairfax County, who has been in the legislature for the last 17 years.

The top ranking Republican in the House, Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights, had to battle to keep his seat, surviving with a narrow 4-point victory that will return him to Richmond, though not to the speaker’s chair.

Republicans  retained House control after the 2017 election only after one of their candidates, David Yancey, won a drawing by lot after his race against Democrat Shelly Simonds ended in a tie. This time around in a rematch, Simonds easily beat Yancey, taking nearly 57 percent of the vote.

In addition to now controlling the legislature, Democrats also hold both of Virginia’s U.S. Senate seats, the governorship, and seven out of 11 seats in the congressional delegation. Democrats have also won the last three presidential elections in the state.

With control of the legislature and governorship, Democrats will be in complete control of reapportionment after the 2020 census, allowing them to protect the gains they have made by drawing favorable maps for the next decade.

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam calls special session in response to gun violence

Northam needs GOP support to pass gun control measures in the wake of Virginia Beach mass murder

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Just four days after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach left 12 people dead, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has launched a renewed push for gun control.

But he needs Republican support to get anything through the legislature — and GOP leaders are giving a frosty reception to a sure-to-be contentious initiative from the commonwealth’s politically wounded chief executive.

Northam calls for special session on gun control (From CBSN via YouTube)

Saying “no one should go to work, to school or to church wondering if they will come home,” Northam announced at a June 4 news conference that he will call state lawmakers in a special session to consider gun control measures, including universal background checks and limits on ammunition magazines.

“We must do more than give our thoughts and prayers. We must give Virginians the action they deserve,” Northam said. “I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.”

However, Republicans control both houses of the legislature, and GOP leaders quickly pushed back.

House Speaker Kirk Cox called the special session “hasty and suspect when considered against the backdrop of the last few months” — a not-so-subtle reference to Northam’s ongoing political troubles since a photo surfaced in January of a man in blackface on his medical school yearbook page.

Northam has since resisted calls for him to resign, including from a number of fellow Democrats.

The Republican Party of Virginia denounced Northam’s “gun-grab session” as “craven” and accused him in a statement of trying to “take advantage of this tragedy to try and boost his own disgraced image.”

Cox also noted that while the governor can summon lawmakers into special session, “he cannot specify what the General Assembly chooses to consider or how we do our work.”

“We intend to use that time to take productive steps to address gun violence by holding criminals accountable with tougher sentences — including mandatory minimums,” he said in a statement.

Northam has previously vetoed bills establishing mandatory minimum sentences for criminal offenders, which he says disproportionately affect people of color.

Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates and a 21-19 majority in the Senate, which means Northam’s gun control proposals would need at least two Republican votes in each chamber to pass.

The governor said he would propose bans on magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, bump stocks and silencers; universal background checks; new “extreme risk” protective orders to keep guns out of the hands of people who might be violent; and a limit on purchases of handguns to no more than one a month.

Those proposals failed to pass in the last regular session of the legislature, but Northam said he would try to pass them again because “it is wrong, it is outrageous, it is unforgivable to turn our municipal centers, our schools, our churches and synagogues and mosques into battlefields.”

However, the National Rifle Association noted in a statement that “none of the governor’s gun control proposals would have prevented the horrible tragedy at Virginia Beach.”

According to police, the shooter who killed 12 people in a Virginia Beach municipal building had legally purchased his weapons and had no criminal convictions or mental health issues that would have resulted in a protective order.

He did, however, use a silencer, which may have contributed to the death toll by delaying the law enforcement response to the sound of gunfire.

The murders in Virginia Beach marked the second time the commonwealth has been rocked by mass violence.

In 2007, a mentally ill Virginia Tech student killed 32 people in two campus buildings, in what remains the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

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Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax calls for criminal investigation of sexual assault allegations

Fairfax issues new denials after his accusers describe encounters in graphic, emotional detail on CBS

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Days after two women vividly described for a national television audience how they were sexually assaulted by Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, he called a news conference to once again deny the allegations and release results of polygraph examinations that he insists clear him.

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax denies allegations in April 3 news conference (From CBSN via YouTube)

“Sensationalizing allegations does not make them true,” said Fairfax, who admitted having sexual encounters with both women but said they were consensual. “Yet airing salacious allegations without evidence does enormous damage.”

Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates continued to spar over whether to let Fairfax’s accusers, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, testify in a public hearing, as the women have requested.

Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox has proposed forming a special committee to hear their testimony, but House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn and Fairfax have resisted, saying a law enforcement agencies, not lawmakers, should investigate to keep the process from becoming politicized.

Tyson has alleged that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him when both were working at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Watson accused Fairfax of raping her in 2000, when they were personal friends while both attending Duke University.

This week, CBS This Morning aired the first national television interviews with the women since their allegations became public in February, during which both described their encounters with Fairfax in graphic and emotional detail to correspondent Gayle King.

“It was a huge betrayal. He was my friend,” Watson said, after describing how Fairfax invited her to his apartment, came into a room, locked the door, and then pinned her down and raped her. “I don’t understand how you do that to someone that you’ve been a friend to.”

She also she had confided to Fairfax that she had been raped by another student at Duke and that he told her after the assault that he thought her previous experience would make her too afraid to report his actions.

Tyson told King that after meeting Fairfax at the Democratic convention, he invited her to accompany him to his hotel room on an errand, and she agreed. As the two began kissing, with her consent, at the end of the bed, she said he grabbed her by the back of the neck and forced her face into his crotch.

“And I’m choking and gagging,” she said. “I was completely caught off guard. It was almost as if I was dumbstruck.”

She told King that prior to the assault, she had discussed with Fairfax her work as an advocate for sexual assault survivors and disclosed that she had been the victim of incest. She said he believes Fairfax “took advantage” of that disclosure to victimize her.

Tyson and Watson both said did not know each other prior to making their allegations and have never met. And Watson insisted she would have no incentive to make untrue allegations against Fairfax.

“The only thing coming forward has done is invited criticism and chaos and scrutiny of me and put me under a microscope,” she said.

At his news conference, Fairfax said he has asked prosecutors in Boston and Durham, North Carolina, where Duke is located, to investigate the allegations, which he said would lead to a “fair, serious and respectful process.”

“I will answer any and all questions, and I am willing to do so under oath and under penalty of perjury,” he said.

Fairfax said he had undergone two polygraph examinations from a nationally recognized polygraph examiner in which he was asked about the women’s allegations. He provided results that showed that the examiner concluded he had been truthful.

Polygraph examinations, commonly know as “lie detector tests,” are used as a law enforcement tool in dealing with suspects. However, results cannot be admitted in court because the reliability of the tests has not been conclusively established.

Fairfax denied the statements attributed to him by the women in their CBS interviews. He also said that neither women appeared upset after their consensual encounters with him, and both stayed in contact with him after the alleged assaults took place.

“If the facts alleged by Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson were true, they conduct would be criminal,” he said. “Such conduct is against everything I have stood for in both my public and private life.”

He said the allegations have been “incredibly hurtful to me and my family and my reputation, which I spent a lifetime building.”

Fairfax, 40, a former federal prosecutor, was elected as Virginia’s lieutenant governor in 2017. He was considered a rising star in Democratic politics until the allegations surfaced in February.

Tyson came forward in February when it appeared likely that Fairfax could become governor, as Governor Ralph Northam was fighting to stay in office after a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page came to light.

Despite calls from fellow Democrats for him to resign, Northam has remained in office.

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Virginia House Republicans plan hearings on Justin Fairfax sexual assault allegations

Lieutenant governor calls hearings “partisan,” doesn’t say if he’ll participate

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates have decided to invite Democratic Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and two women who have accused him of sexual assault to air their versions of events in a public hearing.

Delegate Rob Bell, the chair of the House Courts of Justice Committee, announced the planned hearings Friday, in a speech on the House floor.

“This will give all parties a chance to be heard,” he said.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

However, a date for the hearing and details about the format were not announced. And while both women indicated they would participate, Fairfax’s office issued a statement characterizing the hearing as “partisan” and leaving his participation an open question.

“House Republicans want to pursue this historically unprecedented course of action because the accused is a popularly elected Democrat,” said Fairfax spokeswoman Lauren Burke in a statement. “The path to finding truth and justice should be based on due process and the work of law enforcement professionals.”

The legislature’s current session ends on Saturday, although committees can meet between sessions. House Speaker Kirk Cox said the hearing announced by Bell was not an impeachment hearing, leaving it unclear if lawmakers could force Fairfax to testify.

The decision to organize a hearing marks a change in tactics for Republicans, who have been relatively silent over the past two weeks as Democrats have wrestled with how to deal with allegations of rape and sexual assault against a man who had been considered a rising star in their party.

Both the Democratic Party of Virginia and the commonwealth’s Legislative Black Caucus have called on Fairfax to resign, as have many of the party’s 2020 White House contenders.

Vanessa Tyson, a college professor in California, has alleged that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Meredith Watson, who now lives in Maryland, has accused Fairfax of raping her in 2000, when they were classmates at Duke University in North Carolina.

Fairfax, 40, a former federal prosecutor elected lieutenant governor in 2017, has denied both allegations and called on the FBI to investigate.

The age of the allegations and the fact that neither alleged assault took place in Virginia have complicated efforts to investigate, leaving it unclear which law enforcement agency might have the authority to do so.

Cox had proposed a special investigative committee, with an equal number of members from both parties and subpoena power, but the plan stalled when Democrats would not agree.

Bell’s committee has 10 Republicans and eight Democrats.

Watson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, released a statement saying Watson was “gratified” by the decision to schedule a hearing and “looks forward to testifying at this forum.”

Smith also said it was her understanding that the hearing would be televised and that Watson would be able to call witnesses to corroborate her account.

Tyson’s lawyers also indicated she was “prepared to testify,” although she would prefer a bipartisan committee to avoid a “highly charged political environment.”

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