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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, 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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Democrats, GOP will likely tie for control of Virginia House of Delegates

Democrat wins recount by a single vote to give party parity

RICHMOND (CFP) — By the margin of a single vote in a single race, Virginia Democrats are poised to do what was unthinkable before November’s House of Delegates election — gain enough seats to share control with Republicans come January.

Virginia Delegate-elect Shelly Simonds

A December 19 recount in District 94 in Newport News gave Democrat Shelly Simonds a one-vote victory over Republican Delegate David Yancey, out of nearly 24,000 votes cast. Before the recount, Yancy had a 10-vote lead.

Simonds’s win means Democrats and Republicans both have 49 seats in the 100-seat chamber, with recounts pending in two other races. The Democrat has a 336-vote lead in one of those races, while the Republican leads by 82 votes in the other, making a 50-50 tie the most likely scenario.

Heading into the November election, Republicans held a commanding 66-34 lead in the House of Delegates. But Democrats, riding a surge of suburban support, flipped 16 seats and took out 13 Republican incumbents to end 18 years of GOP control.

While the recount result in District 94 still has to be certified by a judicial panel, GOP House leaders issued a statement conceding both Simonds’s victory and their loss of control.

“As we have said for the last six weeks, we are committed to leading and governing alongside our colleagues,” the GOP leaders said. “We stand ready to establish a bipartisan framework under which the House can operate efficiently and effectively over the next two years.”

Governor-elect Ralph Northam took to Twitter to congratulate Simonds, observing that her one-vote win proves “(e)very vote matters.”

Democrats have filed a federal lawsuit seeking a new election in District 28 in Fredericksburg, where the GOP candidate has an 82-vote lead pending a recount. If successful, Democrats would have a shot at winning an outright majority in the election rerun.

Republicans hold a narrow 21-19 lead in the Virginia Senate. Democrats carried all three statewide posts in November, led by Northam’s 9-point win in the governor’s race.

Earthquake in Virginia: Democrats overturn huge GOP majority in House of Delegates

Results show U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock faces tough sledding to keep her seat in 2018

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Heading into the November 7 election, Republicans enjoyed a comfortable majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, just one seat short of the two-thirds majority necessary to override the vetoes of a Democratic governor.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Virginia

But after a catastrophic showing in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, they may now end up sharing power in the legislature’s lower house with Democrats. And those results spell trouble ahead for Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, who will have to defend her seat in 2018 in the same suburban areas where Democrats rolled.

With three races still too close to call, Democrats are assured of winning at least 49 seats in the House, to 48 for Republicans. Republican candidates lead in all of the three outstanding races, but the margin in all three is small enough to trigger a recount; in one district, the GOP margin is a mere 13 votes.

If all of the races fall to the GOP, Republicans would keep control of the chamber, 51-49. But if just one flips back to the Democrats, the split will be 50-50, and neither party will have control.

State Senate races were not on the ballot; Republicans control that chamber 21 to 19.

Virginia Delegate-Elect Danica Roem

History was also made when Danica Roem, a transgender woman, won a seat in Prince William County by defeating 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 during the campaign.

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 transgender identification.

Democrats made a concerted push to cut into the 66-34 majority that Republicans held before the election, contesting 88 of the 100 seats and raising copious amounts of money, including more than $800,000 in four races. But the swing of at least 15 seats was beyond their wildest expectations.

Democratic challengers took down 12 Republican incumbents, with two more in danger in the races still too close to call. Democrats also picked up three open seats that Republicans had held, with one more open GOP seat still to be called.

Virginia Delegate-Elect Chris Hurst

Most of the carnage was in the D.C. suburbs, where seven incumbents fell, including four in Prince William County. But incumbents also lost in suburban Richmond, the Hampton Roads area, and even in a rural district near Blacksburg won by Democrat Chris Hurst, whose girlfriend, Roanoke TV reporter Alison Parker, was gunned down on live TV in 2015.

Hurst raised more than $1.1 million, a staggering summing in a constituency with just 80,000 people. And despite running in a rural Southern district, he also advocated for treating gun violence as a “public health crisis.”

Democratic Delegate candidates were helped by the top of the ticket: Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam rolled up margins of 20 to 30 points in the northern Virginia suburbs on his way to winning the governorship over Republican Ed Gillespie, and Democratic candidates also took statewide races for lieutenant governor and attorney general.

The results in Virginia were being widely interpreted as a sign that Democrats are reaping the rewards of anger toward President Trump and congressional Republicans, particularly in suburban areas filled with upscale, college-educated voters.

Even before the November 7 election, Comstock was considered to among the most vulnerable Republicans in the U.S. House because Hillary Clinton won her 10th District in 2016 by 10 points, en route to carrying the Old Dominion, the lone Southern state in Clinton’s column.

The district  stretches from Fairfax and Manassas west to the West Virginia border. However, its major population centers are in Loudon, Prince William and Fairfax counties — all areas where Northam ran up big numbers and GOP delegates fell by the wayside.

Comstock has already drawn 11 Democratic challengers. The biggest name in the pack is State Senator Jennifer Wexton from Leesburg.

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