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Reclaiming control in Richmond in November could serve as template for Republicans nationally in 2022
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — After Democrats took over the entirety of Virginia state government in 2020, they got to work.
Photo ID requirement to vote — gone. Ultrasounds and waiting periods for abortions — gone. Death penalty — abolished.
New background checks are now required for gun purchases. LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in employment and housing, and conversion therapy was outlawed. Undocumented students can get in-state tuition.
Marijuana was first decriminalized and then legalized for recreational use. Utility companies were told to retire their fossil fuel plants by 2045. Cities and counties got the green light to remove Confederate monuments.
Democrats even reached back into the 1970s to dust off the Equal Rights Amendment and ratify it.
What Democrats tout as progressive, long-overdue change, Republicans bash as a misguided, ill-advised liberal toot. In November, Virginia voters will be asked to render their verdict, with Republicans banking on a backlash among Virginia’s more conservative-minded voters to lead them back into power.
As the party’s nominee for governor, Glenn Youngkin, put it in a Tweet after his victory at the recent state convention, “It’s time to get our Commonwealth back and put Virginia on the right track to make her the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family.“
If Republicans are successful in their quest to take Virginia back, it could serve as a template for Democrats nationally who are banking on a similar backlash against the Biden administration to break the Democrats’ lock on power on Washington — although Biden is, at least so far, not going nearly as far as his compatriots in Richmond.
What has happened during the last two years in Virginia is an illustration of a split that has also been seen nationally — Democrats from urban and suburban districts whose political interests have radically diverged from their more conservative neighbors in rural areas and small towns.
Once Democrats regained control of the legislature after 25 years out of power, the pent-up demand for liberal innovation could be indulged, to the significant chagrin of conservative Virginians who are angry because they increasingly don’t recognize their state, or at least its government.
Republicans, once dominant in Virginia, have seen their fortunes fade. The last Republican presidential candidate to carry the state was George W. Bush, and they haven’t won a statewide race since 2009. Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the House of Delegates and a 21-18 margin in the Senate, which isn’t up for election in November. (Conservative firebrand State Senator Amanda Chase, elected as a Republican, sits as an independent after a dispute with her party leadership.)
Most of the attention in November will be the battle for control of the House — which, because of COVID-related census delays, will be fought using districts drawn by Republican legislators in 2011 — and the governor’s race between Northam and his likely Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018 and holds a wide lead in polls for the June Democratic primary.
McAuliffe, 64, a Clinton confidante and prolific Democratic fundraiser, was forced from office by a rule unique to Virginia that doesn’t allow governors to run for a second term. If his comeback is successful, it will mark only the second time that a former governor has reclaimed the office (the other was Democrat Mills Godwin elected in 1965 and 1973).
Youngkin, 54, is a political newcomer who lives in the Washington D.C. suburbs and is running as a Christian conservative allied with Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. He made a fortune running a private equity company, allowing him to loan his campaign $5 million during the nomination campaign.
The governor’s race in Virginia is one of just two contests in the off-year election (the other is in New Jersey), making it a key early test for Democrats’ new tenure in Washington.
Four years ago, Democrats took both of those governorships, an early warning sign of the blue wave that would sweep Republicans aside in 2018.
Donald Trump remains a looming presence over this race. Youngkin spent much of the nominating contest dodging questions about whether he thought Joe Biden really won in 2020; after securing the GOP nod, he finally conceded Biden’s election was legitimate.
Democrats will try to tie Youngkin and other Republicans firmly to Trump; they will have to navigate those waters in a way that keeps Trump happy without unduly harming their prospects in the vote-rich suburbs.
The race for control of the House of Delegates will likely be decided in the Washington D.C. suburbs, where Democrats flipped a slew of seats in 2017 and 2019 amid a suburban backlash against Trump. Republicans need a net gain of just six seats to reclaim control.
One of the changes pushed through the legislature by Democrats was to shift redrawing of political maps from legislators to an appointed independent commission. But because 2020 census results have been delayed by the pandemic, the existing maps will be used.
That means House battles will be fought using maps originally drawn by Republicans in 2011, although Democrats already won a majority with those maps in 2019.
The Republican challenge will be to persuade suburban voters who gave Democrats the keys to the castle two years ago that they have gone too far — that what has been coming out of Richmond isn’t what they voted for.
For the other two statewide offices on the ballot in November, Republicans selected former Delegate Winsome Sears for lieutenant governor and Delegate Jason Miyares from Virginia Beach for attorney general
Sears, 57, who served a single term in the legislature nearly 20 years ago and hasn’t held office since, was the biggest surprise to come out of the Republican convention, dispatching five rivals. A Jamaican immigrant and former Marine from Winchester, she served as national chair of Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump in 2020, and her campaign posters and Twitter feed showed her carrying an assault rifle.
Should she prevail in November, Sears would preside of the Democratic-controlled Senate, giving Republicans at least some leverage in the upper chamber.
Eight Democrats are competing in the primary for lieutenant governor, with no clear front-runner.
The attorney general race is the only statewide contest where the incumbent is running, Democrat Mark Herring, who is seeking a third term. However, he is facing a stiff primary challenge from Delegate Jay Jones.
The survivor will face Miyares, 45, the first Cuban-American to serve in Virginia’s legislature.
The post of attorney general would be a perch which a Republican could try to use to thwart Democrats in the legislature by filing legal challenges. Republican attorneys general have also been leading the charge against Biden administration policies in Washington.
All of the statewide races, and the battle for control of the House, will get out-sized national attention, given the small number of contests this year and the bragging rights that will go to the victors.
As for 2022, November will set up this question: “As Virginia goes, so goes the nation?”
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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.
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Woman claims lieutenant governor sexually assaulted her; attorney general admits to wearing blackface
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — The turmoil in the top echelons of Virginia politics took a dramatic turn Wednesday, when a women publicly accused Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface as a teen, echoing a controversy already swirling around Governor Ralph Northam.
A little more than a year after Democrats swept to victory in all three statewide races, party leaders are reeling, as their three top state officeholders battle for political survival.
With Northam under pressure to resign, Fairfax and Herring are next in the line of succession to the governorship. Should all three be forced to depart, House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.
The most serious charges have been raised against Fairfax, 39, a rising star in Democratic politics who was elected to lieutenant governor in 2017.
Vanessa Tyson, a political science professor in California, released a statement putting on the record her allegations against Fairfax, which were first published on a conservative website, Big League Politics, based on a private Facebook post.
Tyson said she decided to go on the record after Fairfax strongly denied the allegations, said the sex was consensual and threatened legal action against news organizations pursuing the story.
“Mr. Fairfax has tried to brand me a liar to a national audience, in service to his political ambitions,” she said in the statement, issued through her attorneys. “Given his false assertions, I’m compelled to make clear what happened.”
Tyson said that during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, she accompanied Fairfax to his hotel room, where he forced her to perform oral sex after “what began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault.”
“Utterly shocked and terrified, I tried to move my head away, but could not because his hand was holding down my neck and he was much stronger than me,” she said. “I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual.”
At the time of the convention, Fairfax was an aide in the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry; Tyson was working at the convention.
Tyson, who holds a doctorate and is a tenured professor at Scripps College near Los Angeles, said the news that Fairfax might replace Northam “flooded me with painful memories, bringing back feelings of grief, shame, and anger.”
She said she began sharing the story of her encounter with Fairfax in 2017, when she learned that he was seeking office in Virginia.
She also spoke with the Washington Post, and, when the post decided not to run the story, “I felt powerless, frustrated, and completely drained.”
The Post has said it did not pursue the story because it could not corroborate either Fairfax or Tyson’s versions of event.
In response to Tyson’s statement, Fairfax issued a statement of his own again insisting that the sexual encounter was consensual.
“While this allegation has been both surprising and hurtful, I also recognize that no one makes charges of this kind lightly,” he said. “I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice. But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true.”
Tyson’s statement came just hours after Herring apologized for wearing blackface back in 1980, when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate at the University of Virginia.
“Some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” he said in a statement. “That conduct shows clearly that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others.”
He also said that “the shame of the moment has haunted me for decades” and “that I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt.”
Despite having this episode at UVA in his background, Herring had called on Northam to resign last week after a photo published on Northam’s yearbook page showed a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
Northam said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the 1984 photo and did not see it until it surfaced on Big League Politics. While he apologized for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he also admitted that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.
Northam has come under increasing pressure from Republicans, civil rights groups and even fellow Democrats — including both of Virginia’s U.S. senators and much of the 2020 presidential field — to step aside. He has so far refused.
After Herring’s admission, the Republican Party of Virginia called on him to resign as well, although the party has not yet issued a similar call for Fairfax.
“Like we have had to say too many times this week, racism has no place in Virginia and dressing up in blackface is wholly unacceptable,” said Jack Wilson, GOP state chair, in a statement.
“As we renew our call for Governor Northam’s resignation, we must regretfully add Mark Herring’s name to the list of Democratic elected officials that have lost the trust of the people of Virginia and have lost the moral authority to govern.”
Herring, 57, was elected as attorney general in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. Both he and Fairfax had been considered as possible candidates to succeed Northam as governor in 2021.
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Justin Fairfax threatens legal action over encounter that his attorneys tell Washington Post was consensual
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — As Virginia Governor Ralph Northam fights to stay in office amid a raging controversy over a racist photo, the man who would take over if Northam departs, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, is pushing back against a sexual assault allegation.
Fairfax came out swinging after Big League Politics — the same conservative website that published a racist photo that appeared on Northam’s medical school yearbook page — reported on a private Facebook post from a woman who claims she was assaulted during the 2004 Democratic Convention.
The woman does not explicitly name Fairfax as her attacker in the post but describes her attacker as someone elected to statewide office in 2017 who is about to “get a very big promotion” — a description that fits Fairfax.
After Big League Politics posted the story, Fairfax’s office issued a statement denying the allegation, insisting that the Washington Post investigated the woman’s claim after Fairfax was elected in 2017 and declined to publish a story after finding “significant red flags and inconsistencies.”
That prompted the Washington Post to publish a story in which the newspaper denied finding “significant red flags and consistences.” It said no story was published because Fairfax and the woman “told different versions” about their encounter, neither of which could be corroborated.
The Post also reported that Fairfax, through his attorneys, described his encounter with the woman as consensual.
In 2004, Fairfax was working for the campaign of then-U.S. Senator John Kerry, who was the Democratic nominee for president that year. He was single at the time; he married in 2006.
Big League Politics said it obtained the private Facebook post from a friend of the woman, who said she had the woman’s permission to share it. The website identified the woman making the assault allegation but said it had not spoken with her.
ChickenFriedPolitics does not identify sexual assault victims who have not gone on the record with their story.
Fairfax’s denial came in a statement attributed to his chief of staff, Lawrence Roberts, and his communications director, Lauren Burke.
“He has never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape or form,” the statement said. “Not one other reputable media outlet has seen fit to air this false claim. Only now, at a time of intense media attention surrounding Virginia politics, has this false claim been made.”
His spokespeople also said the lieutenant governor “will take appropriate action against those attempting to spread this defamatory and false allegation.”
Fairfax, 39, has been in the spotlight since Friday when the racist photo on Northam’s 1984 yearbook page appeared on Big League Politics. The photo shows two men, one in blackface and the other dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
The governor says he believes he is not one of the men pictured in the photo, but he apologized for allowing the photo to be published on his yearbook page. He also admitted to darkening his face to impersonate Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984.
Leading Democrats and civil rights leaders, as well as Virginia Republicans, have been pressuring Northam to resign, but he has so far resisted.
Should Northam step down, Fairfax would serve out the remaining three years of his term. If both offices were vacated, under state law Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, would take over.
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Northam elected governor; Democrats sweep statewide races and make big gains in legislature
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
Democrats also won two other statewide offices, and the GOP lost its once-comfortable majority in the lower house of the state legislature, a stunning feat that included election of the nation’s first-ever transgender legislator.
Northam’s 54-45 percent victory over Gillespie in the November 7 vote was nearly twice as large as Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory over Donald Trump in 2016 and was built on 20-point victories in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and Richmond.
Holding the governorship in Virginia is a boon for Democrats frustrated by a string of heartbreaking defeats in special and off-year elections since Trump took the White House. The result, however, was a hold, not a takeaway, and it came in the lone Southern state Clinton carried.
Speaking to jubilant supporters in Fairfax, Northam offered a thinly veiled rebuke to the president’s take-no-prisoners style of politics.
“It was said that the eyes of the nation are on the commonwealth,” Northam said. “Today, Virginians have answered and have spoken. Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry and to end the politics that have torn this country apart.”
After Northam was declared the winner, Trump, visiting South Korea, sent a tweet taking issue with Gillespie’s decision to distance himself from the president: “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”
The specter of Trump hovered over the governor’s race. Gillespie did not invite the president to cross the Potomac to campaign for him, angering some in his party’s pro-Trump base, but Northam still tried to hang Trump around Gillespie’s neck, accusing the GOP nominee of figuratively “standing right next” to the president, even if literally he had not.
In his concession speech, Gillespie thanked his campaign workers and supporters but did not mention the president.
“I felt called to serve. I hope I’ll discern what (God’s) calling is for me next,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie’s loss is his second statewide defeat in four years. In 2014, he challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner, coming to within 18,000 votes of beating him.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Democrat Justin Fairfax, an attorney and former federal prosecutor from the D.C. suburbs, defeated Republican State Senator Jill Vogel. Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring also won his re-election race over Republican John Adams.
Perhaps the most shocking result of the night came in the races for the House of Delegates, the lower house of Virginia’s legislature. Republicans entered election day holding a 66-34 majority; Democrats ousted at least 11 incumbents and picked up three open seats that the GOP had held.
With five races still too close to call, Democrats had 48 seats and Republicans 47. Of the five races left outstanding, Republicans were ahead in three and Democrats in two. If those results hold, the chamber would be evenly divided, 50-50.
In four of the five House races still to be decided, the leads are less than 125 votes, making recounts likely.
Among the winners was Danica Roem, a transgender woman who won a seat in Prince William County by defeating veteran GOP Delegate Bob Marshall, a 14-term social conservative who had described himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe” and insisted on referring to Roem with male pronouns.
When Roem takes office, she will be the the first transgender person in the United States to be elected and serve in a state legislature while openly acknowledging her gender identity.
Northam’s win in the South’s lone off-year governor’s election gives Democrats three of the region’s 14 governorships, with Northam joining Louisiana Governor Jon Bell Edwards and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. The incumbent Democrat in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe, was barred by state law from seeking re-election.
Northam, 58, comes to the governorship after 10 years in elected office, first as a state senator and then lieutenant governor. A former U.S. Army doctor, he has practiced pediatric neurology at a children’s hospital in Norfolk since 1992.
With his win, Democrats have now won three of the last four governor’s races in Virginia, a once solidly Republican state that has trended Democratic in recent years, primarily due to an influx of new voters into the Washington, D.C. suburbs.