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Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe in tight race for governor
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — Voters in Virginia will cast ballots Tuesday in an off-year election for statewide offices and the House of Delegates, with Republicans trying to reclaim power in a state that has been trending Democratic over the past decade.
Topping the ballot will be the race for governor, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe is trying to reclaim the office he held from 2014 to 2018 in a race against Republican Glenn Youngkin, an multi-millionaire private equity executive making his first run for political office. Late polling has shown the race as a statistical dead heat.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Democratic State Delegate Hala Ayala from Prince William County will be facing off against Winsome Sears, a Republican businesswoman and former legislator from Winchester. The winner will be the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor in state history; Ayala would also be the first Hispanic candidate to win the job.
Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking a third term against Republican State Delegate Jason Miyares from Virginia Beach, the son of a Cuban immigrant who would be the state’s first Hispanic attorney general.
Also at stake Tuesday is control of the House of Delegates, where Democrats currently hold a 55-to-45 majority. The State Senate, which Democrats control 21-to-19, is not up for election this year.
In-person polling opens Tuesday at 6 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m.
This year’s election will be the first since Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature in 2019 and embarked on a series of policy changes that drastically altered the political complexion of the Old Dominion.
The Democratic majority abolished the death penalty, legalized recreational marijuana, imposed background checks for gun purchases, eliminated waiting periods for abortions, protected LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment and housing, and gave cities and counties the green light to remove Confederate monuments.
Legislators even reached back into the 1970s to dust off the Equal Rights Amendment and ratify it.
Republicans are hoping that a backlash to Democrats’ shift to the left in Richmond will allow them to flip the House and win the commonwealth’s three statewide offices, which Democrats have swept in the last two elections.
Once reliably Republican, Virginia has shifted toward the Democrats over the last decade. Both U.S. senators are Democrats, as are seven of its 11 members of Congress, and the last Republican presidential candidate to carry the commonwealth was George W. Bush in 2004.
Still, history may be on Youngkin’s side: The Virginia governor’s race is held in the off-year after presidential elections, and since the days of Richard Nixon, the party that won the White House has lost the governorship every time — except in 2013, when McAuliffe won a year after Barack Obama did.
A loss by McAuliffe would reverberate in Washington, where Democrats have been struggling to pass President Joe Biden’s agenda. McAuliffe has conceded during the campaign that Biden’s popularity has waned in Virginia, although he still brought both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in to campaign with him.
By contrast, Youngkin has not invited former President Donald Trump into the state to campaign with him in person, even avoiding a rally where Trump phoned in an appearance. Trump lost Virginia to Biden by 10 points in 2020.
Virginia governors are limited to a single term, and McAuliffe is trying to become just the second person to reclaim the office for a second time. (The first was Republican Miles Godwin, who served from 1966 to 1970 and 1974 to 1978.)
While the Senate will remain in Democratic hands after Tuesday, the lieutenant governor presides over the chamber, which could cause a wrinkle for Democrats if Sears defeats Ayala.
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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.
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.”
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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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’s amended narrative comes after growing number of Democrats pressure him to step down
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
RICHMOND (CFP) — A day after saying he was “deeply sorry” for a photo on his medical school yearbook page in which two men are shown wearing racist costumes, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam now says he believes he is not pictured in the photo and will not resign.
But while addressing reporters Saturday with his political career hanging by a thread, Northam admitted to another incident that could compound his difficulties — that he darkened his face with shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest in 1984, the same year the offensive photo was published.
After the news conference, during which the governor offered a frequently disjointed narrative under questioning from reporters, his political position deteriorated further.
“I cannot condone the actions from his past that, at the very least, suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping, and intimidation,” said Fairfax, who is African American. “At this critical and defining moment in the history of Virginia and this nation, we need leaders with the ability to unite and help us rise to the better angels of our nature.”
The Democratic governor said his initial statement on Friday — made after the photo appeared on a conservative website, Big League Politics — was an apology directed at people who were offended by the photo, not an admission that he had participated in it.
“When my staff showed the photo in question yesterday, I was seeing it for the first time,” Northam said the news conference in the Executive Mansion, standing next to his wife, Pam. “When I was confronted with these images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page. But I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo.”
“I stand by my statement of apology to the many Virginians who were hurt by seeing this content,” he said. “It is disgusting. It is offensive. It is racist. And it was my responsibility to recognize and prevent it from being published in the first place.”
The photo was published in a yearbook for students at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, from which Northam graduated in 1984.
The yearbook page is headlined with Northam’s name and contains two pictures of him, along with a third photo in which one man is wearing blackface and another is dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
Northam said that after looking more closely at the photo and talking to his medical school classmates overnight, he does not believe he is the man in blackface and that “there is no way I have ever been” in a KKK uniform.
He also said he had no recollection of attending the party where the photo was taken.
The governor conceded that he understands “that many people will find this difficult to believe.”
Northam has come under intense pressure to resign, not only from Republicans but from within his own party. But he said he would stay as governor and try to repair relationships with those offended by the photo.
“If I were to listen to the voices calling on my to resign my office today, I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. I could avoid an honest conversation about harmful actions from my past,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience chose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile.”
However, Northam indicated he might revisit the issue of resignation if the controversy affected his ability to serve as governor.
The lengthening list of Democrats calling for Northam to step aside includes his predecessor as governor, Terry McAuliffe; Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee; and six Democrats seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, including U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both African Americans.
During the news conference, Northam said in 1984, while an Army doctor in San Antonio, he “darkened” his face with shoe polish while impersonating Michael Jackson in a dance contest, which he said he won because he could moonwalk.
He said he recalled the episode years later while talking about blackface with an African-American aide, which made him realize how offensive his conduct had been.
“In the time and place where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognized as abhorrent today were commonplace,” he said.
Northam — who ran for state office four times without anyone making the yearbook photo an issue — also said “there was an agenda involved” with whomever provided the yearbook page to Big League Politics, although he declined to speculate on a possible motive.
The website did not reveal the source of the photo.
The photo’s release came amid a firestorm of criticism aimed at Northam over comments he made in support of a bill easing restrictions on late-term abortions, which led conservative critics to accuse him of endorsing infanticide.
Describing a late-term abortion procedure, Northam said, “so in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
Northam, 59, grew up on a farm on Virginia’s southeastern shore. After graduating from medical school, he served as a physician in the Army before entering private practice as a pediatric neurologist.
He was elected as governor in 2017, after serving a term as lieutenant governor and six years in the Virginia Senate.
Fairfax, 39, an attorney from the Washington D.C. suburbs, was elected lieutenant governor in 2017, after making an unsuccessful run for attorney general in 2013.