Virginia politics is a dumpster fire.
In the span of five days, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface in college, and a college professor made a credible allegation of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
If all three Democrats resign — which looks unlikely at this point, but isn’t out of the realm of possibility — the governorship would be passed to Republican Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, whose district, a court determined, was drawn in a way that discriminated against African-American voters.
To top it all off, Cox got his speakership only after the state settled a tied election — that determined which party would control the chamber — by drawing a name out of a bowl.
It’s all a mess — and one that keeps growing.
All the scandals, explained in brief
This all began with a racist photo in Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook showing two people, one in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb. Northam first apologized for the photo, only to say it wasn’t him a day later. Then, Northam chose to highlight a separate incident in which he did dress up in blackface for a Michael Jackson costume.
The calls on Northam to resign were immediate. At first it seemed like there was a clear successor in Fairfax. Who better to unite Virginia after a racism scandal than a young (Fairfax is 39) African-American rising star?
Then an allegation of sexual assault surfaced. Vanessa Tyson, a Scripps College politics professor alleges Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Tyson told her story to the Washington Post in 2017, when Fairfax was running for office, but the Post couldn’t corroborate it. She has since gone public, and her colleagues say she told them of the incident in the past. Fairfax said the encounter with Tyson was consensual. He denied it was an assault.
Meanwhile, the third-ranking Democratic leader, Herring, a 57-year-old white former state senator who is running for governor in 2021 (Virginia has a one-term limit on governorships) had an admission of his own: He and his friends “dressed like rappers” in blackface for a college party in the 1980s.
Herring’s apology has raised the stakes for Democrats. If not him, Fairfax, or Northam, then the governor’s mansion gets handed over to Republicans, who only control the state’s House of Delegates because state law settled a tied race for the 94th District seat in 2017 by random draw.
Not to mention that Cox himself sits in a district that is slated to be redrawn more favorably to Democrats in the 2019 elections, where the party has the chance to flip both the state senate and House of Delegates.
Virginia has been a bright star for Democrats in recent elections. But these scandals have put all those gains at risk.