Business as Usual as Blackfaced Va. Gov. Remains in Office

‘I think there’s a rightful hesitation about a removal…’

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Ralph Northam’s 1984 Eastern Medical yearbook / IMAGE: CNN screenshot via Youtube

(Marie Albiges And Dave Ress, The Virginian-Pilot) After a tumultuous weekend in Virginia politics, the man who could soon be governor started his work week like any other. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax sat at the end of a press table in the ornate Senate chamber Monday morning and reviewed bill amendments with the body’s chief deputy clerk, Tara Perkinson.

The lieutenant governor serves as president of the Senate. In a brief interview before he took the dais, Fairfax said he had slept fine the night before, after reading Ephesians 6:11 in his Bible. The verse says: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Over the weekend, Fairfax already was anticipating a possible ascension to the governor’s seat because of the controversy over a racist photo in Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page.

But by Monday morning, Fairfax had a controversy of his own: He released a statement denying allegations of sexual assault that Big League Politics — the same conservative news outlet that first posted the racist photo of Northam — wrote about Sunday night.

Also Monday morning, the speaker of the House of Delegates renewed his call for Northam’s resignation, but stopped short of saying the House would start any efforts to force the governor out.

“I think there’s a rightful hesitation about a removal from office,” Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said. “Impeachment — that’s a very high standard.”

He said he hasn’t spoken to Northam since the Democratic governor admitted he posed in either blackface or in Ku Klux Klan robes when he was a student at Eastern Virginia Medical School in 1984 — an admission Northam recanted less than 24 hours later.

Minutes before his Republican caucus met to begin the work day, Cox said the political chaos surrounding the racist photo that appeared on the governor’s medical school yearbook page was “painful” and “heartbreaking.”

“Today is a tough day,” he told reporters Monday morning as legislators gathered back in Richmond for the first time since the photo scandal began Friday afternoon. Lawmakers Monday morning seemed to be in agreement that a lot of legislative work needed to get done today.

No senators spoke about Northam during the time frame allotted for them to raise any topic on the floor — so-called “points of personal privilege.”

And with the House having 150 pages’ worth of bills to get through, Cox said he expected the work day to go until at least 7 p.m.

“It’s our obligation to get things done,” he said. “We just have to do our job, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Northam is no longer attending activities celebrating the College of William and Mary’s 326th birthday and the inauguration of President Katherine Rowe, in what university spokesman Brian Whitson called a mutual decision.

Rowe announced to students and staff Monday morning that Northam would not be attending the annual ceremony on Friday amid calls for the governor to resign over the racist photo on his yearbook page.

“That behavior has no place in civil society — not 35 years ago, not today,” Rowe wrote. “It stands in stark opposition to William and Mary’s core values of equity and inclusion, which sustain our mission of learning, teaching and research.”

Northam officiated Rowe’s swearing-in ceremony in July as the university’s first woman president. Rowe called him a “welcoming ambassador” to Virginia in her time since becoming president.

“However, under the circumstances, it has become clear that the governor’s presence would fundamentally disrupt the sense of campus unity we aspire to and hope for with this event,” Rowe wrote.

(Staff writer Jane Hammond contributed to this report.)

©2019 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.