RICHMOND, Va. -- Continuing fallout from political scandals linked to race and sex pulsed through the state capital Monday, with lawmakers roiled about the admissions and allegations surrounding Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.
The scandals involving the state's top three officeholders left the three Democrats frozen in place despite the maelstrom swirling around them.
Since a race-charged photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook was made public on Feb.1, Northam has ignored calls for his resignation from nearly every state and national Democratic leader.
Because Virginia is the only state in the country that prevents governors from running for a consecutive term, Northam doesn't have to be accountable to voters at the ballot box. And because the yearbook photo and his later admission that he wore blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a 1984 dance contest do not amount to "high crimes and misdemeanors" committed while in office, he can't be impeached under the state constitution.
The same goes for Herring, who called for Northam to resign but then days later admitted that he had worn blackface in college when he was 19. Herring, who announced in December that he planned to run for governor in 2021, has an incentive to try to stay in place and repair his image as opposed to resigning in disgrace.
And Fairfax, who has been accused by two women of sexual assaults in 2000 and 2004, has not been charged with a crime and there isn't an obvious vehicle for an investigation of the allegations, although both women have said they would publicly testify.
An attempt by lawmaker Patrick Hope to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax was shut down by House Democrats after an emotional conference call Sunday night, in which they debated the proper procedure and viability of such a plan, given that the alleged offenses -- which Fairfax describes as consensual -- did not take place during his tenure as lieutenant governor, according to people on the call.
The situation has created another uncomfortable dynamic for Democrats as they ponder whether to force out Fairfax, a rising black star in the party, while white men accused of racism stay in office.
Four staff members working for Fairfax, either in his government office or for his political action committee, resigned Monday, leaving him with just a skeleton crew.
Fairfax's policy director Adele McClure and scheduler Julia Billingsly both departed Monday, as did the two employees of his We Rise Together political action committee, Dave Mills and Courtney McCargo, said his spokesman, Lauren Burke. The departures were first reported by the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Burke declined to say why the four employees left their jobs. "This is a part-time office, so it's not a big staff to begin with," Burke said.
The PAC has just one remaining employee, Burke, his spokesman, who is paid partially through his government office and partly through the PAC.
Meanwhile, the law firm where Fairfax has been a partner since last September, Morrison & Foerster, has hired an outside firm to conduct its own investigation into the allegations against Fairfax, and Fairfax has taken a paid leave of absence while it is pending, the firm said.
At the Capitol building on Monday, Fairfax arrived for the daily Senate session a few minutes early, met by a mob of television cameras and reporters. His security pushed through the narrow, jammed corridor.
Fairfax did not respond to shouted questions but when he got through the media, he mounted a staircase, turned and said "I called for an independent investigation and I am still very much" in favor of it.
In the Senate chambers, no one brought up the calls for investigation or removal and he ran the session in a businesslike manner.
In a telephone interview with The Washington Post on Sunday night, Fairfax repeated his claim that he did not sexually assault his two accusers or anyone else.
The two women deserve to be heard, but at the same time, he deserves due process, Fairfax said.
The now-paused attempt to impeach Fairfax would have been unprecedented; Virginia political observers can recall no attempt to impeach an elected official in the state in modern times.
Some high-profile Virginia Democrats, including Northam, Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Bobby Scott, say Fairfax should step down if the allegations are proven true, stopping short of an outright call for resignation.
As the part-time lieutenant governor, Fairfax presides over the closely divided state Senate during the legislative session and can break ties on certain votes.
Information for this article was contributed by Fenit Nirappil, Jenna Portnoy and Patricia Sullivan of The Washington Post.
A Section on 02/12/2019
Print Headline: Fairfax impeachment bid halts