RICHMOND, Va. (Good Politic) – Virginia lawmakers will reluctantly face the unprecedented prospect on Monday to deter the second most powerful leader of the state, struggling to address revelations of racist past and accusations of assault at its highest levels.
At least one legislator said he will try the accusation of the Democratic Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax after two women accused Fairfax of sexual assault in the 2000s, a movement that experts think would be a first in Virginia. Fairfax has vehemently denied the claims and called on the authorities, including the FBI, to investigate.
There is little sign of a broad interest in impeachment, with legislators ready to close this year's session before the end of the month. But the legislature swings from questions about succession lines and the political consequences for the Democrats if the governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general is willing or not willing to leave.
Government Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, are embroiled in their own scandal after acknowledging that they were wearing blackface in the 1980s. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said Sunday that he was resigning, but that he "did not go anywhere" because the state "needs someone to heal it".
Northam said on CBS & # 39; & # 39; Face the Nation & # 39; that it has been a difficult week since a racist photo appeared in his 1984 medical school yearbook, and showed a person wearing blackface alongside another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and coat . Northam initially said that he was in the picture and denied it the next day when he acknowledged that he was wearing Blackface at a dance party that same year.
"Virginia needs someone who can heal. There's no better person to do that than a doctor, "Northam said." Virginia also needs someone who is strong, empathetic, courageous and has a moral compass. And that's why I'm not going anywhere. "
The scandals have become a complete crisis for Virginia Democrats. Although the party has adopted an almost zero-tolerance approach to sexual misconduct in the # MeToo era, cleaning in Virginia could be costly: if all three Democrats were to resign, the landlord Kirk Cox of the republican state would become governor.
Political considerations will be the key to what follows. Virginia is one of the few states elected legislators this year, and the Democrats had hoped to change the General Assembly controlled by the Republican.
Democratic Del. Patrick Hope said he wants to introduce articles of deposition Monday against Fairfax, which is black. Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson have accused him of assault and offered to testify at every interrogation session.
The Associated Press generally does not mention people who say they are victims of sexual assault, but both women volunteered.
Watson claims that Fairfax raped her when they studied at Duke University in 2000, her lawyer said in a statement. Tyson, a professor at the University of California, accused Fairfax of forcing her to have oral sex at a hotel in Boston in 2004.
The Lieutenant Governor has made a statement on Saturday in which he denies that he ever sexually attacked anyone and made it clear that he does not intend to resign immediately. Instead, he urged authorities to do research.
"Honestly, we really want every entity with extensive inquiring power to look closely at these accusations," said Lauren Burke, Fairfax spokesperson. "There must be verification of the basic facts about these allegations, it feels like something bigger is happening here."
Some political observers said that it is possible that the deposition will continue in the House of Representatives – even if the threshold for starting the process is remarkably high. However, legislators are planning to leave the city before February and may not have sufficient time and resources to address the complicated issue immediately.
"A clear sign of the depth of LG Fairfax's political crisis is the near-absence of votes in Virginia's politics this weekend where it was publicly invited to remain in office," said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary. Washington, in an e-mail.
If the legislature is in session, the House would need a simple majority to vote to accuse Fairfax, said A.E. Dick Howard, Professor of Law at the University of Virginia. The Senate would then assess evidence and hear a testimony. That room would need a two-thirds vote to condemn among existing senators.
Another possibility: Fairfax just hangs while it disputes the allegations.
"For Donald Trump, I'd say with this sort of thing that it's impossible for a person to just keep going, to push his head down and ignore it," said Quentin Kidd, professor of political science at Christopher Newport University. . "Post-Donald Trump, I think that what elected officials are willing to do has changed in some way, so he can persevere, he can certainly stay."
If Fairfax were to leave, it is unclear who could replace him. Northam may try to appoint a Democrat, while the Republicans may take a legal challenge with the aim of serving Senate Pro Tem Steve Newman as both a voting senator and a temporary lieutenant governor.
Meanwhile, the future of the Attorney General is unknown. Herring, who acknowledged that he would wear Blackface at a party in 1980, would become governor if both Northam and Fairfax were to lose their position. Herring apologized but did not indicate that he would resign despite his initial strong appeal to the governor to resign.
When he asked him Sunday for his opinion about his subordinates, Northam told CBS that it was up to them to decide whether they wanted to stay in office. He said that he supports Fairfax's call for an investigation into sexual assault. From the herring he said that "he has grown just like me".
The promise of Northam Sunday to work on healing Virginia's racial divide was his second in so many days. In his first interview since the scandal broke out, he told The Washington Post on Saturday that the tumult has pushed him to confront the deep and persistent divisions of the state, as well as his own insensitivity. But he said that reflection convinced him that, by remaining in office, he could work on solving them.
"It is clear from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do," Northam said. "There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in terms of equity."
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